Former newsman, PR practitioner and hospice volunteer Peter Yeo talks about his and other patients’ journey with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in a soon-to-be-published book. He has already outlived his prognosis of five years and continues to fight to breathe every day.
Being a volunteer in the hospice care movement in Singapore in the 1990s afforded me a great opportunity to observe at first hand the treatment and care of those with terminal illness, and how they are assisted in their dying days, months and, for some, even years. Few people get to learn what it is like to face death, and spend time with those at the end stage of their lives. For me especially, with my several terminal illnesses, the experience had been most valuable, and reassuring.
We all have to die at some time, and we also have loved ones and people we know and care about who die at some point in our lives. So being a hospice volunteer allowed me to draw close to death, and witness and sometimes be involved in the care of those who were dying. It has helped me tremendously and equipped me to show real sympathy and learn to empathise with people in their grief, not just at funeral wakes but in the months and years after bereavement. Such empathy is often lacking among us. Volunteering in hospice care, in whatever way, is good preparation for our own deaths and those of people we care about and know.
My experience at Dover Park Hospice and at Assisi Hospice was invaluable. I witnessed in real life what Dr Cicely Saunders stated as her and hospices’ mission towards the terminally ill, which is “not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die”.
I expect my idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) to be the illness that will eventually kill me. I have some anxiety about the progression of my illness, which will cause me to be increasingly short of breath till my diseased lungs no longer function to transport oxygen to my bloodstream. I will ultimately asphyxiate, just like a person being suffocated or drowned. Palliative care, I hope, will lessen my suffering. As someone familiar with hospice care, home or institutional, I know I will benefit from it. So I am very comfortable in facing my imminent death and the suffering before that.
I have not been involved in the hospice care movement in Seattle where I now live nor in Washington, the north-westernmost state in United States, where I have lived for more than 20 years while commuting annually to Singapore. But I understand, from fellow members of my IPF support group in Seattle, that hospice care is fairly well developed here. Perhaps, I should investigate it more and place that on my most important to-do list! It is just that I am an inveterate procrastinator, and do not feel any anxiety about my impending death or need for palliative care.