Numb to the PainF. Amos Bailey, MD Nov 26, 2019
I clicked on the link. A photo of a man, clearly chronically ill, but in a safe and clean environment. Chuck is the feature of the article. He had been homeless or incarcerated most of his adult life. Now with a terminal illness, he has hospice care in supportive housing.
Wonderful work by people living in the Seattle area is being done for Chuck today. There are no pictures of Chuck living/sleeping rough on the street, just in this safe environment. We are numb to the pain in our society. It is “acceptable” for thousands to be homeless or housing insecure. It is “acceptable” to still have many with precarious access to healthcare in the US. How did we get to the point where we as a society are OK with this?
“I have cared for homeless hospice patients.” A statement that only shocked me when it shocked a colleague from a developing country I was visiting. My experience teaching palliative care in this developing world also shocked me; the lack of adequate pain medications and other resources paired with limited palliative care knowledge. I was impressed that what they did have in this resource deficient country was community; even the prodigal son, daughter, parent was still cared for.
I admired this sense of community so much that it led me to praise my hosts. This led to me sharing the story of a hospice patient I visited weekly on the street near the viaduct he lived under. (Ultimately when he was too sick he came into the inpatient Balm of Gilead Palliative Care Unit). My friends were shocked that we had so many homeless people in the US and even when they were sick. This lead me to see how truly numb I was that I was no longer shocked.
What are the limits of our numbness?
It appears that in Seattle homelessness and terminal illness with the need for hospice care is not “acceptable” which is better than many places I have worked and lived.
McCarty, E. (2019) As homeless Washingtonians near the end of life, hospice workers offer comfort wherever needed.