Surprises can be fun. A surprise birthday party can be an unexpected joy. A surprise in the plot of a movie can add a suspenseful twist. When it comes to the health or longevity of a loved one, however, surprises can be unbearable. For this reason, many family members of hospice patients have been known to ask hospice nurses or doctors, “How much time do they have left?” While a specific month, week, day, or hour amount is helpful for families so they can emotionally prepare, in many instances, hospice care professionals won’t deliver a specific answer.
As much as families would like one, there is no hourglass whose sands count down the moments of life their loved one has left. Doctors and nurses can make estimations based on their own experiences with past patients who displayed similar symptoms or experienced the same conditions. Still, these are simply educated guesses based on one’s own experience, not a bedside hourglass. There are myriad reasons why some people live longer and some pass away sooner than others.
The Danger in Overestimating
Another reason why hospice nurses and doctors may be hesitant about providing answers based on their experiences is the severe danger in overestimating the patients’ longevity. It’s understood that those administered to hospice care could pass at any time. Some may continue living long past the doctors’ furthest estimations. Others could pass away in their sleep soon after arriving. When a hospice nurse or doctor provides an estimate that spans a fair amount of time out and the patient dies much earlier than this expected time, the surprise can be devastating for family members and loved ones. For this reason, many hospice professionals will resist the temptation to deliver an overly specific estimation regarding a patient’s lifespan.
The Safe Answer
Despite this apprehension over delivering an incredibly specific lifespan estimation, hospice professionals will still give patient families and loved ones reasonably safe-but-accurate input into their conditions when asked. An experienced hospice nurse or doctor may be able to tell loved ones whether a patient has hours to days, days to weeks, weeks to months, or months to years left. This may be all the information they can reliably give, but is still specific enough to help loved ones emotionally prepare for the loss of this individual. Of course, these standards will vary depending on the hospice professional, the patient, and their ongoing rate of decline.
They’re Not Lying to You
With whatever answer you receive from your hospice care professional, it is essential to know that no one is lying to you. There is no incentive for anyone to be deceptive about the lifespan of a patient. What may feel like secrecy is likely uncertainty—none of which is anyone’s fault, but simply the complicated nature of patient decline. It is vital to trust your loved one’s hospice care professionals and believe they are doing everything in their power to provide comfort, clarity, and honesty throughout the process.