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J Palliat Med. 2010 Jun;13(6):779-82. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2009.0325.

Sitting with you in your suffering: lessons about intractable pain at the end of life.

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Division of Geriatrics, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California 94121, USA.


This paper describes a case of a hospice patient that a hospice and palliative care team struggled to palliate. We review a case of a 63-year-old man with anal squamous cell carcinoma who was transferred from an inpatient hospice unit to an intensive care setting in an ill-fated attempt to alleviate his pain and suffering. This paper also describes the frustration and desperation on the part of his medical and interdisciplinary team to provide him adequate relief. In retrospect, there were likely many system factors that may have contributed to this patient's ongoing suffering, including restrictions on the use of certain medications by location (i.e., hospice unit versus intensive care setting) as well as medication and ordering misunderstandings. Opiate neurotoxicity, existential and spiritual angst, and social isolation also contributed substantially to this patient's suffering. Furthermore, we describe not only the importance of exhausting all medical resources to relieve patients' pain and suffering, but also of learning to sit with patients in their suffering.

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