My friend Steve and I, who happens to be the IT Director for Solaris Hospice, love hiking when we have the opportunity. Luckily, we occasionally find ourselves in Colorado where hiking opportunities abound. Our favorite type of hiking tends to be summit hiking. As it sounds, summit hiking involves following a designated trail to the summit of a mountain. Summit hiking is very often a bittersweet journey. Altitude, steep grades, unstable footing, rocky terrain, weather and more can make parts of the ascent downright miserable. But when you reach the summit, something magical happens.
The obvious joy of reaching the top and gazing out at the amazing view hits first but is by no means the end. As the awe of being on top and all that comes with it settles in, you start to realize that the miserable parts on the way up weren’t so miserable after all. The physical challenge you experienced is no less real but you start to find the appreciation in the ascent itself. The summit is not reached without the difficult journey. You can’t have one without the other. The summit is the goal that keeps you going when it feels like you’re losing a lung, and once reached, the summit is what brings full appreciation of the journey.
Anyone who has worked in hospice care for any amount of time knows it can be physically tiring and emotionally taxing. In many ways, hospice care is like summit hiking. The goal of the hospice caregiver is to help the patient reach the twin peaks of comfort and dignity. This of course involves a journey that includes the unstable footing of disease, the rocky terrain of pain and symptoms and the sometimes stormy weather of family dynamics. It can become difficult to keep pushing for the summit.
This is where you discover that, like summit hiking, hospice care is best done with others. Pushing for a summit alone is much more difficult than doing so with even just one other person. Thankfully, hospice care is delivered in a team setting. Different team members act as guides for the patient and family at different times, and in turn provide support and relief for each other. The joy of reaching the summit with the patient sets in and only then is the true beauty of the journey revealed.
We’d love to hear from other providers and hospice caregivers. How do you and your team support each other?