Thu, Jul 19, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Dade ward marks tenth anniversary

DEATH WITH DIGNITY The hospice at Taipei Veterans General Hospital is working to change perceptions about care for terminally ill patients

By Angelica Oung  /  STAFF REPORTER

On the tenth anniversary of the opening of one of the nation's first hospices, medical professionals and families of patients past and present gathered at Taipei Veterans General Hospital to reflect on the progress of the program.

Charles Peng's (彭繼祖) father spent only two weeks in the Dade ward, the name given to the hospice, before he died of oral cancer two years ago. But Peng said he was grateful to the hospice for seeing to it that his father's last days were peaceful, comfortable and filled with love.

"At first, we were depressed by the idea of my father going to the hospice because we equated the step with death," Peng said. "But as soon as we got there, our hearts were opened."

Peng said the facilities at the hospice made it possible for his father to take his first bath in more than six months.

"It made him so happy to take a proper bath with his family around him," Peng said. "We took turns helping him wash as he listened to his favorite singer, Teresa Teng."

"He smiled and we still keep the memory of that smile with us," he added.

Peng said the doctors told his father when he moved to the hospice that the end was very near.

"At the time I thought ... how cruel. But it was also the moment when my father ceased to be anxious. He even wrote a poem during his stay in the hospice," Peng said.

Staff also shared their experiences at Dade, where the focus is on palliative care and patient comfort.

"We opened the facility, the country's fifth hospice, because it was the right thing to do -- even though it would be another four years before the National Health Insurance (NHI) started paying for hospice services," said Chen Tung-chao (程東照), a former superintendent at the hospital. "In the long run, the hospice spared patients suffering and saved the NHI money because unnecessary medical treatments are foregone and the focus is on freeing patients from pain."

Since it opened, the hospice has hosted more than 3,000 terminal cancer patients.

"We have had to overcome some of the traditional ideas about death," said Hwang Shinn-jang (黃信彰), the chief family physician at the hospital. "Sometimes families feel that they are letting their relatives down by ending treatment, while others place great importance on dying at home."

"However, hospice care is now a growing trend in Taiwan," he added.

Hu Gui-rong (胡桂榮), 59, was a doll-costume-designer before she fell ill with ovarian cancer in May last year. Her room in the Dade ward is filled with Barbie dolls decorated with her handmade costumes. Hu said she got her first decent night's sleep for a year after moving into the hospice on Friday.

"I told my doctor that I was ready to move upstairs," Hu said, referring to the Dade ward, which is directly above the cancer ward where Hu was receiving treatment.

However, her body did not respond well to chemotherapy, she said.

"My mother is much more comfortable here at the hospice," Hu's daughter said. "However, I don't think of it as giving up. I tell her: `It's not that easy.'"

Hu's doctor has not given up on her.

"He told us that if [Hu] feels strong enough to try another course of treatment she could give it a go," the daughter said.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top