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Managing pain, not death – how hospice helps!

Hospices are associated with dying, but many simply help people to cope with the pain they are experiencing rather than preparing them to die.  “When my daughter suggested I go into hospice I thought she was trying to post me off for good,” 66-year-old Stephen Hogan says with a chuckle.

Sitting upright in a bed at the Wits Hospice in Johannesburg, Hogan says he was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago: “I had an op but the cancer had already got out of the prostate and into the bones.”

He pauses and inhales wheezily before continuing: “They wanted to give me chemo and all that but I refused. Didn’t want that. I saw that done to my son you know,” he says, averting his grey-blue eyes.

Hogan watched his son suffer through the taxing chemotherapy, which did not save his life. The way in which he watched his son die, wasting away, traumatised him to the point where he decided that that was not the way he would he would deal with his own cancer, even with the chance that the therapy could save or prolong his life.

But what was left for Hogan? He suffers from pain and other symptoms related to his disease. Born in Turffontein, Hogan worked in construction and building prior to his diagnosis but is unable to afford medical aid. After several traumatic experiences at public hospitals, he refuses to even try to access care there.

Even if he were to use the public health sector, only seven facilities in the entire country provide palliative care services, according to the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of South Africa (HPCA).

Hogan’s daughter suggested that he try one of HPCA’s hospices, with around 140 facilities across the country. They are also free at the point of service, providing many economically-strapped South Africans with care.

But Hogan too thought this meant death. “Because that’s what I heard. People come here to die. But that’s completely off the mark.” Hogan has been a patient at this hospice for a few days so the staff, consisting of doctors, nurses, social workers and care givers, can assist him to manage his pain as well as fluid that has built up in his prostate.

Many people suffering from terminal illnesses do come to hospice to manage the process of coming to the end of their lives. But once Hogan is feeling better, he will return home where hospice staff will make daily visits to check up on him at his request.