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.

Advertisements
End-of-Life Care, Hospice, Mexico, Palliative Care

World Palliative Care and Hospice Day – A Note from Guadalajara, Mexico

Juntos Contral El Dolor team
Juntos Contral El Dolor team

I have the honor of serving as an observer at Juntos Contra El Dolor (United Against Pain), a palliative care hospital and hospice in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Its founder, Dr. Susana Lua Nava, is a graduate of the medical school at UAG (Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara).  She did further training in the Canary Islands with Dr. Marcos Gomez Sancho, considered a highly-regarded thought leader in palliative care.

Dr. Lua, also a nun, is dedicated to creating an integrative model for Mexico which addresses the needs of not only the patient, but of the family as well.

Her non-profit produces educational seminars on palliative care for both professionals and the public.  On October 29, 30, and 31 Juntos Contra El Dolor is sponsoring a 20-hour continuing education international conference at Expo Guadalajara entitled “Crisis en Salud: Amenaza o Crecimiento?” (Health Crisis: A Threat? Or an Opportunity for Growth?).

Pain management pioneer Dr. Marcos Gomez Sancho of Spain will focus on the “Culture of Death in the Latin World”, and “Dying in Peace.” Other themes include morphine vs. marijuana, the psychological struggle in patients with terminal diseases, how the family handles a crisis and makes decisions, interventions when pain is difficult to control, nutrition, and more.

Juntos Contra El Dolor is located in the parish of San Bernardo (Mezquitan Country), known for its dedication to social justice. There is a day center for Down’s Syndrome children, a drug and alcohol live-in re-hab, a senior home, and the hospital.

Juntos Contra El Dolor serves all regardless of socio-economic standing, religious preference, age, or race.  See http://www.JuntosContraElDolor.com.

Above is a photo of the Juntos team.  Dr. Lua is in the center.