Since 1995, this hospice has been providing free care, medical services and spiritual solace to patients suffering from terminal cancer. Through its dispensary, the hospice also provides free medicine, rice and other food items to the poor. Books are also regularly distributed to impoverished children.
In a society where only a handful can afford the high cost of treatment and personal care, the majority of terminally ill patients are considered a burden by both family and society. These individuals often undergo intense physical and psychological suffering and are left to die a death lacking in dignity.
A hospice provides specialized care in a homelike setting to patients during their final stage of life, by helping to address their fears and concerns as well as by supplying palliative comfort for their physical symptoms.
The Amrita Kripa Sagar Hospice near Mumbai inaugurated in 1995 by Dr. P.C. Alexander, Governor of Maharashtra, consists of a main building with accommodations for 50 patients, medical facilities to relieve pain and lessen suffering, a kitchen, meditation and prayer hall, residential quarters for in-house medical and nursing staff, mortuary and crematory.
The main staff consists of two medical doctors, one nurse, one pharmacist and two cleaning staff. There are also six part-time receptionists, who are all devotees doing selfless service. All the services provided are free of cost for patients.;
Patients from all social classes are usually referred from Tata Cancer Hospital. Some also arrive from other hospitals. The average time a patient spends at this institution is one month; usually it varies between three to four months and just a few days.
In order to make patients feel at home in the hospice during their final stage of life, every imaginable effort is made. For example, Marathi patients will receive Marathi food. Patients from other ethnic groups will, whenever possible, receive their own local cuisine.
The relevance of a welcoming, warm atmosphere for alleviating patient distress is demonstrated in an incident related by Bri. Amrita Sri, a former long-term nurse of the hospice.
"Shanta Bai was around 65 and full of anxieties in the final stage of oral cancer. When her cousin brought her to the center, her tongue was protruding through a hole in her chin. On seeing her deplorable condition, around sunset I spontaneously had the idea to bring a keyboard to the main hall and told a devotee to play some music."
"Shanta Bai was placed in the main hall among others and after listening the music for a while, to everybody’s surprise, she stood up and started dancing. Seeing this, I immediately told all devotes present at that moment to join in. After a short time, whoever was able to do so, be it staff members or patients, was dancing joyfully. It was a unique, unforgettable experience" she recalls.
This experience continued to repeat daily at dusk, and three weeks later Shanta Bai died peacefully. Amma’s devotees assist the staff in taking care of patients’ needs by washing their clothes, giving them a bath, even dressing wounds or administering their daily medicine. Many often have bed sores, due to lying bed for often months, which need special care.
Most of the patients’ health is so poor that they are limited to remaining in bed all day. Some try to meditate or do yoga.
Bri. Amrita Sri also gave several examples that bear evidence of the human capacity to make the best out of the even most difficult circumstances.
"Motilal, a 70 year old Muslim widower, was terminally ill with kidney cancer and deeply depressed when he was brought by his nephew to the hospice. At home there was nobody to take care of him. According to the medical records he was expected to live for maybe three to four more months."
"Since he showed interest in gardening, he was asked to water the plants in the hospice garden whenever he was able to do so. He immediately accepted and would also spend long hours relaxing there. Then, out of his own initiative, he started to look after those patients whose condition was even worse than his, calling the staff whenever hi s fellow patients displayed some need."