~~ In the News ~~
LOS BAÑOS, Laguna – They call themselves “midwives of the soul.” But while midwives assist women during childbirth, these hospice volunteers “give comfort to the dying.”
“When dying, there is so much pain – physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual. The hospice attends to all those,” said hospice president Monina Mercado.
In 1993, Fermin and Lourdes Adriano, both professors at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), lost their 14-year-old daughter, Sarah, to cancer. Trying to assuage their grief, they attended a hospice seminar of Filipino oncologist Dr. Josefina Magno in Manila.
Magno, who was the pioneer of hospice care in Washington D.C. and Maryland, was then commissioned by the World Health Organization to bring the idea of palliative care to Third World countries.
The Adrianos introduced hospice care to colleagues and to some members of church groups in Los Baños the following year.
The Madre de Amor Hospice was founded and its first president was Antonio Mercado, Monina’s husband.
Since then, the hospice has serviced about 500 dying persons in 15 years and is considered the longest running community-based foundation with its center located in Los Baños Subdivision, formerly the Umali Subdivision, in Barangay Batong Malake.
“The dying usually asks not to be left alone, to be forgiven, to reconcile differences with spouse or children,” Monina said.
Death, she added, comes with the “fear of the unknown and of the end of things.”
The dying fears leaving loved ones behind.
“We do not promise cure to the patients, it is not in our hands,” said Monina. The hospice, instead, offers companionship and friendship to the dying as well as to the family of the dying.
A dying person goes through the denial stage and the hospice helps him/her accept the fact.
“Death is not death. It is a passage to the next life,” Monina said. As the body perishes, the soul remains. She said this is the “healing” the hospice could offer.
Monina remembered Emma, a hospice patient who had cancer of the uterus.
“She could not sleep. She said she could hear children crying in her head and wanted to stop them,” she said.
Emma was a known abortionist in the town for 10 years and only stopped when she was diagnosed of the illness.
The volunteers accompanied Emma to a confession, but it did not stop the crying.
“We told her, you have to forgive yourself,” Monina recalled.
However, the anguish continued. It only ended when Emma opened up about her adopted son Boyet.
According to Monina, there was a young student who wished to get an abortion. Emma refused as the student was already on her ninth month of pregnancy. She instead adopted the boy.
“It was her last suffering. She worried about who would take care of Boyet,” Monina said.
Emma’s sister promised to take care of the boy and shortly after, Emma died in 1997.
As referred to by WHO and insurance companies, hospice workers are often called volunteers.
“It is only here in Laguna that we are called nambibisita,” Monina said. She said the term came from the volunteers’ approach as “nambibisita po kami (we are here to visit).”
Madre de Amor has about 50 volunteers operating in 17 towns of Laguna. They come in pairs when visiting homes of patients usually at Stage 3 or 4 of cancer.
Most of the time, relatives, neighbors or doctors enroll a person to the hospice.
“It’s not easy to see a dying person. Sometimes, the breasts are open and rotting. Most (patients) also take time before they open up,” Monina said.
But she believed the volunteers were mature in age and experience. “They have a certain kind of depth. They are brave because they carry their faith,” she added.
A beginner volunteer undergoes a two-day training at the hospice.
The volunteers regularly meet each month to review and discuss the case of the patient they are handling and to consult with the hospice doctor regarding the patient’s medical needs. They also conduct quarterly spiritual recollections.
“A volunteer is never left alone. He has a support system,” Monina said.
When the patient dies, the volunteer joins the wake and attends to the bereaved family.
For the whole year, the volunteer looks after the family by regularly calling and visiting them.
If a relative of the volunteer dies or the patient he was taking care of passes away, the volunteer is not allowed to do hospice work for a year to recover from bereavement. He, however, continues to attend activities at the hospice.
A volunteer gets by “through prayers and friendship” the others offer him, Monina added.
They receive no pay for the service, as the foundation survives through donations and drugs sourced from health organizations.
Teresita Gonzales, 68, was one of the hospice’s pioneer volunteers. She joined the service believing “it was pay back time.”
Teresita earlier worked at the University of Missouri Medical Center, whose patients were children with terminal illnesses.
In 1986, she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“They gave me six months (to live) and I am alive up to now,” she said, owing her survival to medical doctors and to the “Divine physician.”
She said her faith and the support of loved ones were a big factor to her recovery. “I felt first-hand how to have this kind of disease. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to touch and heal the dying,” she said.
She remembered one hospice patient, Pauline, who had a brain tumor. Hours before the girl died, Pauline talked to her about seeing images of God and angels.
“That is the stage called playing with the angels. Her eyes were stuck on the ceiling,” she recalled.
Teresita lamented that the dying are often ignored in society today.
“What if death sneaks in and you are caught unprepared? Every day, you need to make a difference in the lives of other people,” she believed.
Hospice care in the Philippines has not gained much support and popularity, said Dr. Rhodora Ocampo, Madre de Amor medical and program director. In Asia, she said, Singapore has so far the most number of hospice centers.
“The need for hospice care could be referred to the millions of people dying unrelieved of pain and suffering,” Ocampo said.
Most hospice patients in the Philippines suffer from breast and lung cancer.
Only 11 percent die in the hospital, while 89 percent die in their homes, mostly without available treatment.
Madre de Amor helped establish the National Hospice Palliative Care Council of the Philippines and in 2003, the umbrella organization Hospice Philippines that now has 20 member hospices.
It has also moved for the declaration of the National Hospice Week celebrated every first week of October.
Laguna’s ‘midwives of the soul’ By Maricar Cinco
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 01:03:00 04/16/2009, accessed 4/24/2009
Contributed by Mary Ann Ubaldo