Shantha Sevana: A haven for the terminally ill

By Tharindri

The gardens of Shantha Sevana are remarkably cheerful. Compared to the hustle and bustle of the Maharagama Cancer Hospital which stands adjacent to it, there is calm around the clean, beige-painted corridors of the hospice. Nurses in their crisp uniforms and spotlessly dressed hospice aides walk around busily attending to their duties while various doctors and family members make their way in and out of this home for the terminally ill.

October 8 this year saw the world celebrating World Hospice and Palliative Care Day, and although the terminology of cancer, chemotherapy and mammograms are familiar to most, hospices and their services are usually less familiar.

For those diagnosed with incurable non-communicable diseases, care options can be limited. A heavy emotional burden is often borne by the patient and the family. A "hospice" is a care institution for those with such diseases such as cancer cardiovascular diseases, respiratory syndromes, diabetes related or other. In other words, it is a care institution for the terminally ill aiming to help patients in the final stages of their lives to live as pain free and as comfortably as possible, in dignity and surrounded by loved ones, where possible. The disease is not treated here, but instead every effort is made to ensure the quality of life left. A hospice while affirming and respecting life, does not attempt to delay death.
Palliative care available in a hospice is care which helps alleviate or eliminate patients' suffering - psycho social, physical or spiritual, manages symptoms and side effects and provides pain relief so as to improve the quality of life for the patient who has a life threatening disease.

While hospices worldwide house patients with various diseases, Shantha Sevana in Maharagama is dedicated to providing palliative care to those terminally sick with cancer. "Dedicated" here is not mere wordplay. Shantha Sevana offers those who feel they have very little hope the dignity and respect needed to live the rest of their life in peace and even, happiness. Most often this extends beyond physical care and medicines to mental, emotional and spiritual support as well as social acceptance. Palliative care at Shantha Sevana includes constant vigilance and nursing, pain management and relief, alleviating distressing symptoms, feeding, keeping the patients clean and cared for. Their psychological, social and spiritual needs are also addressed.

Started in 1996 as the first of its kind in Sri Lanka, the staff now consists of a group of doctors, trained nurses, hospice aides and support staff.

At the hospice, all services come completely free including admission, care and food. The single requirement for admission is a referral by a medical professional confirming that the patient is "terminally ill resulting from cancer". Absolutely no discrimination is made on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, social status etc.

Even amidst death, sickness and pain, the amazing thing is that cheer never lacks at the hospice. Patients are sometimes quietly watching TV, engaging in handcraft activities run by volunteers, reading, etc. Inmates are encouraged to keep busy and more importantly, happy. Visits by family members are greatly encouraged at Shantha Sevana.

Although hospices are prevalent in the sub-continent and some of the best are in India, Sri Lanka has very little knowledge of their existence and more so their function. The lack of knowledge of the nature of a hospice and its immense value to the terminally sick and their families has ironically resulted sometimes in underuse of this high calibre care institution. A public education programme to familiarize the concept of a hospice would be greatly beneficial.

Shantha Sevana is blessed with the donations of a group of truly dedicated and committed benefactors and so is financially secure. It is satisfying as well as a tribute to the institution to see the number of families of patients who have benefited from the care and love of Shantha Sevana, return to help in whatever way they can, whether it be to give alms, donations or just spend time with other patients. Shantha Sevana relies on volunteers who can commit a few hours to come in and spend some time with the patients who eagerly await the company and warmth and also the connection with the outside world. Volunteers are always welcome.

The number of touching tributes paid to the institution by family members of patients who have passed away, at the recently held hospice day celebrations was proof of the excellent service it renders.
Shantha Sevana is truly a haven for the terminally ill with cancer, and a blessing for their loved ones who cannot care for them fully. It is a home away from home where life is respected and death is not feared. It is a 'somewhere' - where the terminally ill will have their hand held gently and eased on in their life's journey.

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