Hospice offers care for Christians, Muslims, Jews
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JERUSALEM (CNS) - When Sister Monika Dullmann first came as a volunteer to Saint-Louis Hospital as a young theologian, the most difficult task she faced was watching terminally ill patients suffer.
PATIENT WRITES OUT PRAYERS AT JERUSALEM HOSPICE FACILITY Sister Constancia Francis, 82, writes out prayers as therapist Tammy Einstein, center, consults with another staff member at Saint-Louis Hospital in Jerusalem March 22. The facility, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, provides hospice and geriatric care to Jerusalem residents of any race, religion or nationality. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill)
Sister Monika, now the hospital director, said 20 years of experience has taught her that she may never be able to relieve all pain, but she can help patients during their last and most difficult moments. Sister Monika noted that Jesus spent his last night in the Garden of Gethsemane alone. What she can offer, she said, is her simple presence, so that those in her care will not be alone in their final hours of suffering. "I realized that the last thing I can do for someone who is suffering is not to run away," said Sister Monika, 42, originally from Germany and a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition who run the hospital. Located just outside the New Gate of Jerusalem's Old City, not far from the sites where Jesus spent his last days, Saint-Louis Hospital provides hospice and geriatric care for Jerusalem residents regardless of their race, religion or nationality. Today the staff of 60, which includes doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, support staff and 25 volunteers, provides care for some 50 patients. It is frustrating to be trained to heal and not be able to help someone, Sister Monika acknowledged. However, she said, there are things "which may not have as their aim to make the person healthy, but which have the aim to make the last time of his or her life as comfortable as possible." Her patients' daily suffering and struggles have not given her an insight into why people must suffer, she added. "I can give the question of 'why' up to God. I can live with the question, having no answer myself, because I know Jesus," she said. "Jesus during all his life tried to help people who suffered. We should do the same. What I know for certain is that there is a certain grace when a person comes close to death." Retired Sister Sylvia Cuschieri, the 73-year-old former head nurse for the hospital who now works with the dietician and janitorial staff, said: "Some days were very heavy and very hard to understand why there is so much suffering on earth. ... I would say to myself I am not capable (of doing) this. "Then I understood I am not alone. Jesus was doing the ministering. There is strength in us we can't explain, something beyond words, something beyond feelings," said Sister Sylvia, who is originally from Malta. "If (Jesus) didn't suffer ... we would not be able to do our work here." Sister Monika said sometimes there is joy when someone dies, such as when an elderly Armenian woman died at 76 after being in a coma for 19 years. She had no family left in Jerusalem. Patients are not put on respirators unless they specifically request it while they are lucid, said Sister Monika. If that is their wish, emergency services are called in and the patient is taken to another hospital for treatment, because Saint-Louis Hospital does not have a respirator. Another terminally ill patient wanted to attend her niece's wedding before she died. The staff kept her alive with blood transfusions, which normally is not done in hospice care. Two volunteers accompanied her to the wedding. Afterward, the transfusions were stopped, and the patient died 10 days later. "We were so happy that she accomplished what she had wanted," said Sister Monika. Art therapist Tammy Einstein, an Israeli-American Jew, uses crayons to work with retired Sister Constancia Francis, 82. Though Sister Constancia has Parkinson's disease, she often will write out prayers that she knows by heart during their sessions together, said Einstein. The children of Bonina Gershon, 73, an Orthodox Jew, placed her at Saint-Louis when she was left in a persistent vegetative state after a brain biopsy more than three years ago. "Thank God for this place," said Gershon's sister, Stella Israel, 78. "The staff is wonderful. There is no difference here between Christians, Muslims or Jews. Everyone is well respected, all our holidays" are celebrated. Most patients are referred to the hospital by other hospitals, and their fees are paid by the Israeli health system. Occasionally the Palestinian Authority health system has asked to place a patient from the West Bank at Saint-Louis Hospital. "Usually it does not work," said Sister Monika. "If you send a patient for the last period of his life, and the family can't visit him (because of Israeli travel-permit restrictions on Palestinians), that is not good. ... For hospice care, it is difficult to cross the border." Abdullah Abu Haneih, a nursing aid from the West Bank village of Anata, sometimes encounters difficulties at checkpoints while commuting to the hospital. When the separation wall around his village is completed, his trek will be more difficult, he said. But once he reaches the hospital, he puts all politics aside, he said. "Here I forget everything. I am here to help people. We do our best to make them comfortable - even with simple things like scratching their nose," he said.
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops