Death and Dying, End-of-Life Care, Hospice, Humanitarian Rescue Older Adults, Mexico, Palliative Care, Palliative Care Mexico

Sacred, Dignified Death in a Mexican Palliative Care Hospital

I have been sitting hospice as a volunteer since 1999.

I currently have the honor of assisting at the only 24/7 palliative care hospital and hospice in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, http://www.juntoscontraeldolor.com, (United Against Pain).

It is beyond words to try and describe what I see and feel as patients come and go – those who get well, those who pass in our presence, those who have family, those who are estranged from family, those who have no family.

Every day is a lesson in human behavior, details of physical illness and care, psychology of illness, and feelings that occur as we observe pain and/or quiet passing of others. Every day, despite the circumstances, there is a demonstration of love.

In early 2016 we received a call from El Refugio (The Refuge) missionaries, a non-profit that rescues people from the streets of Guadalajara. They had found a tall (by American standards), emaciated man who appeared to be dying.

The man had been taken to the Hospital Civil Viejo (the Old Civil Hospital) where admittance was refused. The missionaries called in desperation. They remembered Juntos Contra el Dolor serves all regardless of economic position or faith. Everyone deserves a respectful end-of-life.

The  founder of the Juntos Contra el Dolor humanitarian model for Mexico, Dra Susana Lua Nava, urged the group to bring the man immediately. The man arrived dehydrated, malnourished, and appeared as though he would pass at any moment.

mural at entrance to Juntos Contra el Dolor
Mural at entrance to Juntos Contra el Dolor, palliative care hospital and hospice, Guadalajara, Mexico

We gently bathed him several times the first few days removing deep set black from his shoeless feet and body. We constantly changed the sheets and his gown. The odor was strong the first days and then dissipated. Around the fourth or fifth day the patient began to open his eyes. We started feeding him by mouth, little by little.

Each of us who entered his room – physicians, nurses, social workers and volunteers would have the same experience. We would talk to him, but he could only answer with sounds. At first we thought it was because he had lost almost all this teeth. We finally figured out he did not speak Spanish. He might have been a native Huichol from the mountains of Jalisco. We did not know.

But whenever we visited or fed him there would be light of appreciation in his eyes, and a slight smile on his strong, handsome face. When we stroked his forehead and hair or had our hands on his, he would bring our hands to his lips and kiss us. Tears would stream down his face. This is how he communicated. It made us wonder if he was ever attended to in his life. We too were moved. We felt a lot of compassion for him. We did our best to make him feel welcome and comfortable.

His name? He had no identification. One of the rescuers decided on “Rogelio”. We did not know his age. We guessed age 80. We did not learn the circumstances of his life of course. All we knew is that at this stage of his existence he was alone and abandoned. 

But we were there. And one of the missionaries would come when he could to stay by Rogelio’s side all night, as family members usually do.

There were humming sounds of prayer in the room each day from those who stood by him.

In less than two weeks Rogelio passed in the early morning hours, veladoras (candles) burning. I was there alone with the night nurse. We bathed and diapered him. We wrapped his hands and head in gauze. We wrapped him in a new sheet with his face peeking out. I silently talked to him and wished him a good transition. I cannot speak for others who tended to him but his presence was an inexplicable gift.

Most of the patients who come to us (or whom we go to at home) are surrounded by innumerable family members. Rogelio was no longer without support. Hopefully, we gave him a dignified death.

Miraculously, El Refugio found a way to pay for his cremation. They found a place for his remains under a tree (we do not know where) and said prayers for him. He was cared for by everyone along his journey. See https://www.facebook.com/elrefugio.cuarto    Note: When unknown persons pass in Guadalajara their remains are placed in an unmarked communal grave in the city cemetery.

Rest in peace dear Rogelio.

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End-of-Life Care, Health & Wellness, Hospice, Pain, Palliative Care, Palliative Care Mexico

Mexico Palliative Care Non-Profit Holds Festive Fundraiser in Super-Competitive Environment

Mexican non-profits have a hard time surviving. One can say many non-profits, no matter the country, find it challenging to be sustainable.

In the state of Jalisco, there are over 800 registered A.C.’s, Asociaciónes Civiles, or non-profits. In all of Mexico, there are about 4,000 registered non-profits. That’s a lot of competition in a land where philanthropy, though existent, is not part of the culture.

Juntos Contra el Dolor of Guadalajara is a remarkable entity. It is a Mexican model for palliative care and hospice. Its resourceful, enthusiastic founder and palliative care educator Dra Susana Lua Nava is an ecumenical nun. Her team serves anyone of any belief system or economic background. All are dedicated to offering holistic pain relief for life-limiting conditions or at end-of-life.

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Administration volunteer Michele Carrillo, Madre Martina Zumaya Head of Nursing, Dra Susana Lua Nava founder, Dra Karla Rebollar of Juntos Contra el Dolor A.C.

In 2014 Dra Susana Lua Nava and Juntos Contra el Dolor received the prestigious state of Jalisco IJAS award for outstanding contributions by a non-profit.

Juntos Contra el Dolor’s 24/7 humanitarian effort includes not only medical attention at its 8-bed hospital but outreach and education to 65 or more patients and their families at home. For a Mexican non-profit dependent on donations, this is an achievement. Faith in the need, faith in all possibilities, and a lot of love are components of the Juntos ability to continue despite obstacles.

Every member of the team is a volunteer except the nurses. The team consists of palliative care doctors, psychologists, social workers, chaplains, and trained volunteers.

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Four social workers, two MD’s (far right), all Juntos Contra el Dolor volunteers

Juntos Contra el Dolor held its annual fundraiser, a Fiesta Mexicana gala, on Saturday, September 24.

The nuns and volunteers led by Dra Susana Lua Nava proved to be creative and super organized.
Every detail was attended to – philodendron plants, potted geraniums, Viva Mexico banners, red/green/white flags hanging from the ceilings, red/green/white bow ties over white blouses or shirts so people would know who the volunteers were, donated chocolate cake from one of the best bakeries in town, clean white table cloths and chair covers, a tequila bar, a hand-made hot organic corn tortilla corner, and a place for photos where guests could dress like a revolutionary from the Mexican independence. Fresh quality food included 10 guisados (entrees) prepared with love and served in Mexican pottery, a rarity at charity events in Jalisco. And, there was a romantic singing group Los Bohemios, plus an all-girl mariachi band dressed in hot pink and silver!!  A lively event and fun for all.
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Sweet volunteers Lola, Maria, and Nena
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Volunteer Juan with his lovely, sensitive mother – his father, her husband, passed away at Juntos Contra el Dolor in June 2016
beautiful Mexican ladies of the San Bernardo parish
beautiful Mexican ladies of the San Bernardo parish
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junior guests
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All-girl mariachi band from Guadalajara

Juntos Contra el Dolor provides weekly consultations in a donated space in San Augustin, a suburb to the west of Guadalajara. By January 2017 there will  be consultations for those suffering from pain at Lake Chapala, an hour from Guadalajara. The offices will be in the Church of San Juan Batista in San Juan Cosala.

As mentioned, the non-profit stays afloat by donations – usually in-kind support such as diapers, linen, paper supplies, fresh organic food, and new medicines.At the following link you can read what is needed and where one can make donations.  http://juntoscontraeldolor.com/Donaciones/don.html

Dr. Lua received three years of specialized palliative care training in the Canary Islands with Dr. Marcos Gomez Sancho, considered the leading palliative care physician and professor of the Latin world. Dr. Lua is a thought leader for Mexico, and author of  El Enfermo: Terreno Sagrado  (The Ill: Sacred Terrain).

End-of-Life Care, Health & Wellness, Hospice, Mexico, Palliative Care, Palliative Care Mexico

Palliative Care/Hospice Juntos Contra el Dolor of Mexico Holds Kermes (Fundraiser)

Juntos Contra el Dolor - we are helping diminish pain
Juntos Contra el Dolor – “we are helping diminish pain”

 

Juntos Contra el Dolor, A.C., the only 24-7 palliative care/hospice in Jalisco, Mexico, held a kermes to raise funds for its humanitarian medical effort which aides patients with chronic pain, and, at end of life. The Juntos team also provides psychological and spiritual support to families of patients.

The kermes was held on a Sunday from 8 a.m.to 2 p.m. outside the Templo of San Bernardo on Plan San Luis in northwestern Guadalajara, a church with 3,000 parishioners.

A Mexican kermes is an outdoor party for a special cause. To support the cause, people buy food and drink. The Juntos kermes served tacos with birria, quesadillas, homemade jamaica (a hibiscus drink) and horchata (a rice drink). Juntos brochures were on each table.

The nurses, who are the only paid staff (except for volunteer retired nurse Rocio), were taking care of patients at the hospital around the block..

The Spanish word kermes is derived from the Turkish word kermes which originally meant a handicraft bazaar to raise money for charity. It is also derived from the Dutch word kermesse, (kerk = church, mis = mass), a festival after mass.

setting tables for the kermes
setting tables for the kermes
founder Dra Susana Lua Nava with volunteer nurse Rocio
Founder Dra Susana Lua Nava with volunteer nurse Rocio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

volunteer nurse Rocio and volunteer coordinator Nena
volunteer nurse Rocio and volunteer coordinator Nena
social workers Silvia and Lupita
volunteer social workers Silvia and Lupita

 

sister volunteers, administrator Sara on the right
sister volunteers – Marta and administrator Sara on the right