Thursday, June 25, 2009


In trusted hands…

Shanti Avedna Sadan, India’s first, and probably largest, hospice is an inspiring community effort.

Every bed overlooks the sea in Shanti Avedna Sadan, India’s first hospice to take care of the advanced and terminally ill cancer patients, set up in 1986. Run by a trust of the same name, it is entirely free for patients. Earlier called Shanti Avedna Ashram, the name was changed in 2003, as “ashram” gave out wrong signals to people that this was a place to dump patients, explains Sister Siena, hospital administrator.

Located opposite the Mount Mary church in Bandra, the hospice has recently expanded to 100 beds from the 50 earlier. It is a palliative care centre and provides medicines, food, clothes and occupational therapy for those inclined. Two doctors form a part of the 50 members of the staff, 30 of whom are voluntary. Dr. L.J. De Souza, a cancer surgeon at Tata memorial hospital, founded the hospice to ease the misery of patients who were either sent home or left on the street to die.

Keeping them comfortable

Run entirely on donations, the hospice could well be the largest one in India now, says Sister Siena. With the expansion, there will be some focus on research and alternative medicine. Patients come from all over the country and here the emphasis is on keeping them comfortable and giving them love. “We get people from all classes and communities and it is both a hospital and a home for them,” she says. There are facilities for indoor games, occupational therapy, handicrafts and music but many are too sick to do anything. In the women’s ward, beautifully lit by the evening sun, women sit and knit or do cross stitch. Each bed can be cordoned off by curtains for privacy. Some of the women have been here for a year or so. Sister Siena says, “When it is not possible to cure people, this is the best thing we can do for them. We also help the families reconcile with the person’s condition. When patients come here, they are still in a state of rebellion, especially if they are young. It is not easy for them to accept their situation.”

Special care

While most patients are in the ward, the more serious ones are given separate rooms so that their family member can also stay and care for them. There are 40 such rooms. Most people are visited by their families and rarely do they dump them. Some of the patients have to be tube fed or have frequent nausea spells. “In the hospice we focus on tender loving care,” smiles Sister Siena. There is only one thing she had to get used to, the frequent deaths — at least two or three people die every day. “In a hospital you get the joy of seeing people recover, here the staff has to contend with the opposite. The joy lies in giving the people happiness in their dying moments,” she smiles.

The hospice, though run by a trust, is a community effort. As you walk around, you can see that even school children have contributed to it. In fact, on the day it was inaugurated, “The School’s Ward” was opened by a young girl from Canossa high school which had made the highest contribution to the hospice.