Because how it ends does matter...

Because how it ends does matter...

HEARTFELT Pain is inevitable, suffering optional. Karunashraya has been working in earnest to reduce the suffering of terminally-ill cancer patients, adding a delightful dose of dignity to their last days, discovers Jisha Krishnan

It’s a late Friday afternoon, a time when most offices are already into the weekend mode. But time travels differently at Karunashraya. Everybody is working here.

Bandages are being changed, tea and biscuits being served, someone is being helped with her wheelchair. For a place that sees at least one death a day, the atmosphere here is, surprisingly, lively. Perhaps, it’s the compassion in the air.

“They are dying. But if there’s anything that can be done to alleviate their suffering, it’s well worth the effort. We are all going to die someday, right?” says Bindu Satish, a counsellor with The Bangalore Hospice Trust – Karunashraya, a public charitable trust setup by the Indian Cancer Society (Karnataka Chapter) and Rotary Bangalore, Indiranagar.

These are patients for whom medical science has no cure to offer. And given that most of them can’t really afford medical treatment anyway, they have nowhere to go once hospitals shut their doors on them. A hospice – a place that offers
palliative care catering to the patient’s physical, psychological and emotional needs – is where such a patient belongs.

When eight-year-old Afrin was sent back home by an oncology centre in
Bengaluru, his mother Hazeera was determined to find an alternative. Karunashraya has far exceeded her expectations, she says.

“They had said he won’t last more than a few days…The brain tumour may not have left my boy, but he has gained a kilo over the last three months. And there’s life in his eyes again.”

Three doctors, four counsellors, four physiotherapists and 50 health assistants work relentlessly and with all their heart to make this possible. The patients don’t wear uniforms here – it’s a home, not an institution. Families can visit the patients anytime – except between two and four in the afternoon (dressing time) and at night. Each patient is offered food of their choice, three times a day. And everything is free of cost.

“The girls try their best to make the
patients feel at home,” says Sister Rose Mathew, the nursing superintendent. The girls - most belong to poor families - have completed a six-month health assistants learning programme, during which they earned a stipend and later, bagged the job.

“It’s more than a job. It gives a sense of purpose to life,” says Rose, who is back for her second stint with the hospice after a break.

There’s a certain calmness here. The energy-efficient stone structure (designed by Chandavarkar and Thacker free of cost), the water body right in the middle housing colourful fishes (known to have a soothing effect on disturbed minds), the prayer room (where the last rites can be performed), the garden, the fresh air. The adjoining construction activity is only a minor irritant.

“We are adding 24 more beds,” informs Gurmeet Singh Randhawa, the managing trustee. With 55-beds, the hospice always has a long waiting list of patients. “Given the increasing incidence of cancer, we need more hospices in India,” he says. Karunashraya has helped setup seven satellite hospices in India.

What started as a homecare service in 1994 (in a hired auto with a nurse and counsellor in tow, visiting homes of cancer patients) has now transformed into a unique, inspiring, professionally-
managed facility offering free palliative care, in-patient as well as homecare, to over 15,000 patients.

“Our annual expense is about three crore rupees. We have somehow managed to garner just about enough funds. The land is on lease from the government for 30 years. People have been kind and generous,” says Kishore Rao, chairman.

He recounts the incident when Aamir Khan was shooting in the city for a film, a couple of years ago. Aamir agreed to visit a 17-year-old patient, who was only hours away from the end. “The patient was so overwhelmed that he spent the next
couple of hours talking about Aamir to anybody who would listen.

He passed away the next morning, but in those hours he seemed to be in a pleasant trance,” he recounts.

Mike McIntyre in The Kindness of Strangers writes, “Sometimes those who give the most are the ones with the least to spare”. Karunashraya has witnessed many such generous donations.

The landless labourer who offered to donate part of the money he had borrowed for his bus fare; the donor from a small town near Kolar, whose money-order comes like clockwork, never later than the seventh of each month. “It started with Rs 75 and has progressively increased to Rs 125,” says Kishore.

And then, there are volunteers (many as part of their company’s CSR activities) who help with the cooking, gardening, cutting bandages, entertaining patients – singing, dancing, playing games. Dr Kamanavelan, the chief medical officer, believes that such diversional therapy works well for patients. Sometimes as the distressing symptoms go away and the appetite comes back, patients think they are getting better.

But there is no getting better, really. Feeling better is possible. Ask Basappa. The 33-year-old has been here a for three months and he says he hasn’t felt this good in a long time. His Follicular Lymphoma notwithstanding, Basappa is happy.

The average stay of a patient at Karunashraya is about 18 days. And there’s a lot we can do to make these days better. Donate food or medicines for a day, week, month or even a year.

You can also donate wearable clothes or clothes which can be made into strips, sterilised and used for dressing wounds. Karunashraya has a charity shop, where everything from books to dresses and furniture sets
(donated) are on sale. All proceeds from the sale of goods at the shop and charity sales (held every month) go towards
patient care.

Because, they believe, there’s a greater need for care when there’s no hope for cure.

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