Late-stage care comforts dying souls

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by Xinhua writers Chen Qingbing and Lyu Qiuping

CHONGQING, April 8 (Xinhua) — Social worker Zhou Can was a bit surprised at receiving a phone call from a stranger, who wanted to avail end-of-life care services for his dying mother.

The man surnamed Chen said his mother was dying in a noisy hospital, and all he wanted to do was find her a quiet place and let her pass away with dignity, Zhou recalled.

It was the first such request ever over the past five years since the 29-year-old joined the hospice program at a social welfare home in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality.

“In most cases, we are turned down by families as long as we mention ‘end of life’,” said Zhou, adding that such a request indicates people’s changing attitude toward their work.

According to traditional Chinese beliefs, death is seen as something very inauspicious, and people avoid uttering words like “die.” While more and more Chinese people have become aware of death with dignity, social workers like Zhou are providing end-of-life services to comfort those in their final days of life.

After graduating from college with a major in social work, Zhou joined the First Social Welfare Home of Chongqing in 2016, when the organization had just introduced end-of-life care services.

Such services include palliative treatment from doctors and nurses, psychological counseling to ease the fear and anxiety of death as well as customized measures to help the dying elderly accomplish their unfinished dreams so that they can bid farewell to the world with peace and dignity. Sometimes, social workers need to contact public interest groups and volunteers to help achieve the elderly’s wishes.

Despite all the goodwill for hospice programs, Zhou’s colleague, Fan Jie, had warned her that the job was not favorable. “Families would deem our appearance a bad omen and would be reluctant to accept our service, although it’s free of charge,” Fan told Zhou.

Thus, instead of mentioning “end-of-life care,” they have adopted a different approach. They tell the families that they have come to accompany the elderly, talk to them and entertain them so that they would not be lying in a lonely state.

The workers chat with elderly people first before providing them with customized services.

They play peaceful military songs for veterans, read for book lovers and even invite volunteers to perform for those who love dancing.

Hospice programs have become widely accepted in many developed countries, and are now being implemented at hospitals in major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenyang and Chengdu. But such services in elderly care houses are rare.

Zhou said that the care not only comes from social workers but also needs teamwork of doctors, nurses and nursing workers. “For example, we ask nursing workers to hold hands of the elderly, greet them and stay for more than 30 seconds while delivering meals for them.”

She added that for those at the final stage of life, it is more important to address their needs than simply prolonging life. More often than not, their demands are simple.

“An impoverished elder used to tell me that his final wish was to have a sip of orange juice,” Zhou said, recalling that the man who could barely be fed died in comfort and satisfaction after having more than a box of bottled orange juice.

“One can easily afford to buy a commonly available branded juice from a supermarket, but for the man living in frugality all his life, the beverage was a symbol of luxury,” said Zhou.

Over the past five years, Zhou and her colleagues have served more than 100 elderly people in total.

Zhou feels delighted as she has earned recognition from families of elderly people due to her thoughtful and delicate services.

On the 90th birthday of a woman surnamed Cai, who was under late-stage care, her daughter expressed gratitude toward Zhou for looking after the nonagenarian and inviting volunteers to perform her favorite dances and songs in front of her bed.

For the birthday party, Zhou even decorated the ceiling, the only part that Cai could see as she was too weak to move her eyes. Cai’s friends also joined the celebrations.

“Although my mother couldn’t speak, I could tell that she was happy. I could feel her hands moving slightly,” the daughter surnamed Fan told Zhou. “Thank you so much for all that you have done.”

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