Why can’t we die with dignity in Comox Valley?

Dear editor,

Recently I visited with an elderly dying friend. He spent his last days in St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Dear editor,

Recently I visited with an elderly dying friend. He spent his last days in St. Joseph’s Hospital in a ward with three other people who were also suffering from “end of life.”

How deeply disturbing it was to see this very fine, but now-frail man, still with humour and wit intact, attempt to make light of the moans and shouts that came from the woman in the bed beside him.

He would also muster a light chuckle at the sights often seen from the adjacent bed, occupied by a man who had forgotten all modesty and anger control.

I would see my friend’s eyes smile at the kindness of the nurses, but their time was spread thin tending to the living as well as the dying.

He didn’t complain about the many times a stench would suffocate the air, or the noise of hospital rings, voices, pumps running, dishes smashing to the floor, and more moaning. No, he didn’t complain, but he did mention not sleeping well and he wanted “the heck outta” there.

But where could he go?

His little wife, who sat on a hard chair at his bedside for hours on end, would have taken the “love of her life” home to die, but she had neither the knowledge or the strength to care for him and his shunts and bodily functions, etc.

They had no choice but to stay where they were and watch as beds emptied out and wonder when my friends’ bed would empty.

Like myself, other friends would drop by to give comfort, but it was clear that many of them were so disturbed by their surroundings, they were little good for comfort.

I’m sure my friend was aware of that. He would, in his manner of banter, give them permission to leave.

I am shocked to read that for years, the Comox Valley Hospice Society has been begging the government for money to facilitate a form of kindness and dignity to aid in the end-of-life process.

It also came as a huge surprise and with disgust, that we as a community, and (one would hope), with an evolved social structure and system, that we can’t offer our dying any more than what my friend had. I see that as inhumane, cruel, and bordering on Third World!

Another friend of mine recently found herself in a state of no recovery. She was dying in Delta, where there is a hospice facility. She was transferred to the hospice from the hospital, freeing up a bed for someone who needed it  for recovery.

Again I was shocked by what I encountered on my visit! It was like a heaven in contrast to my other friend’s hell!

When I entered the building, there sat the whole family in a large living room setting equipped with comfy chairs and even a fireplace. They were quietly chatting among one another as they waited their turn to sit at the bedside of their beloved mom, grandma, aunt, etc.

I was escorted to my friend’s room, down a peaceful, dimly lit, clean and pretty corridor. No gurneys, no smells, no bells and speakers, nobody rushing about. It felt like a boutique hotel. Seeing her in bed looking so comfortable in her little lace nighty, with her eldest son reclined on a chair beside her, and her daughter laying on a cot at her other side, warmed my heavy heart.

Her surroundings were peaceful, restful, and embraced her grieving family and friends. The hospice staff  took great pride in making the transition from this world the best it could be, and the agitation she displayed while in the hospital had softened into a restful state.

Everything was the best it could be.

What puzzles me is hospice everywhere is heavily driven by donation, fundraising, and volunteers.

Our hospitals have dying folk taking up beds that could be used by people who can benefit from necessary medical procedures and care. Our dying have plainer needs, palliative care, to be monitored for and provided with, comfort. That requires less equipment and less staff.

Another puzzler is why such huge amounts of money have been handed out to the Lower Mainland, but our Valley, the “boomer capital” can’t even get funding to staff a hospice facility!

Shame on you, who hold the purse strings!

Where would you like to see your loved one spend their last days? What last vision would you like to have, or leave in your child’s or grandchild’s memory, or would you simply spare them the visit to an inhumane setting?

Sheila Gunn,


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