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Barbara Bush is receiving 'comfort care' for her failing health — what does that mean?

Elise Solé

Barbara Bush’s health is failing, and in lieu of hospitalization, the former first lady will reportedly focus on “comfort care.”

On Sunday, the 92-year-old wife of George H.W. Bush released a statement through a family spokesperson which read, “It will not surprise those who know her that Barbara Bush has been a rock in the face of her failing health, worrying not for herself — thanks to her abiding faith — but for others. She is surrounded by a family she adores, and appreciates the many kind messages and especially the prayers she is receiving.”

According to CNN, about two years ago, Barbara was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure. On March 30, she was admitted to a Houston hospital after experiencing shortness of breath and was recently released.

Granddaughter and Today correspondent Jenna Bush Hager said Monday of Barbara: “She’s a fighter. She’s an enforcer. We’re grateful for her, for everybody’s prayers and thoughts, and just know the world is better because she’s in it.”

She added“She’s with my grandpa, the man she’s loved for over 73 years. They are surrounded by family, but I think the fact that they’re together and that he still says, ‘I love you, Barbie’ every night is pretty remarkable.”

Comfort care, also known as hospice, is a medical practice that focuses on alleviating a terminally ill patient’s suffering, as opposed to pursuing further treatment, either at home or at a nursing facility.

“These are patients who are no longer eligible for curative measures,” Lia Morovati, a registered nurse and patient care manager at Comfort Care Hospice in Los Angeles, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “What that often translates to is, ‘Don’t break my ribs if my heart stops in order to give me CPR and don’t intubate me if I stop breathing. Just keep me comfortable until the end.’”

In order to qualify for comfort care, a patient has to be given a 6-month life expectancy, but some patients defy the odds and live longer. “We call them ‘graduate patients’ because they enter hospice, and with care and luck, they get better,” she says.

Morovati says the field of hospice care is riddled with misconceptions, one being that patients are simply kept on morphine, a pain medication derived from opium, until they die. “That is true at some facilities, but every program has its own philosophy,” she says. “Some hospices don’t give patients their medications and let them follow their own course; others, like ours, continue providing prescriptions — we call them “what if’ medication — and anything else to keep patients comfortable. However, if their condition worsens, we don’t transfer them to the hospital.” 

What’s more, says Morovati, many doctors aren’t properly trained in end-of-life practices, which makes the work of hospice nurses that much more significant. “Our goal is to allow patients to die with dignity.”

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