San Diego Hospice: 1977 – 2013

On February 14, 1977 San Diego Hospice opened its doors to care for people with terminal illnesses. On February 13, 2013 we announced we were closing our doors forever.

I say “we” because since February 14, 2005 I have been an employee of San Diego Hospice.

So what happened? That’s a good question and I’m not sure we’ll ever completely know the answer. Perhaps it was Medicare who claims we were treating people who were not terminally ill. Or a disgruntled ex-employee who claimed to warn us of this but was fired for her efforts. Or mismanagement at the highest levels.

Or maybe it was a combination of all of these. On some level it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that we are shutting our doors and asking our patients and employees to look elsewhere.

It’s been a hard road. For those of us on ground level (the ones with boots on the ground) we’ve done extraordinary work. We’ve come into peoples’ lives (and homes) and brought order to chaos, hope to despair, and calm to panic. We’ve taught people to die with dignity and we’ve taught caregivers to be miracle workers. We’ve shown countless people that while death is inevitable, suffering is not. Pain is not. Despair is not. I’ve cared for patients from age 3 days to 102 years and I’ve shown them – all of them – that their lives have meaning and their deaths have value.

Now we have to show that as an organization we can die with dignity. We are feeling our patients’ feelings and experiencing their experiences. The uncertainty, the bewilderment, the fear.

In 1950, while accepting his Nobel Prize, William Faulkner said this:

I believe that [we] will not merely endure: [we] will prevail.

He wrote this in the shadow of the Cold War where the United States and the Soviet Union were both building weapons of global destruction, but they speak to us on this day.

Hospice will prevail. Palliative medicine will prevail. Death with dignity will prevail.

Most importantly the smart, dedicated, committed and imaginative geniuses I work with will prevail.

When I am on hospice (hopefully decades from now) I will benefit from the work that was done at this place, in this time, with these people.