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What exactly is “Comfort Care”?


Former First Lady Barbara Bush chose her own way of dying and has helped bring to the surface the idea of palliative “Comfort Care” in dying.[/caption]

The debate on how to care for people who are near the end of their lives has been brought to the forefront recently with the passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush. Mrs. Bush, known as the enforcer, lived up to that mantel to the end of her life. She chose her own way of leaving this earth and in doing so brought to the forefront the topic of “Comfort Care.”

For many people, as the end of life approaches, reality is difficult to accept. We try to live life to the fullest, always wanting to take one more sip from its cup. Does there come a time when the fight makes no more sense? Does there come a time when taking one more treatment does not continue to make sense? Does there come a time when the fight is over and enjoying those last days in comfort should indeed be the goal?

For some it does and then living and dying in dignity is more important than the fight. This is when honoring the wishes of that person is the goal.

There are many misconceptions of what “Comfort Care” is. Some believe that it involves the administration of no treatment. In reality it is an end of life preference. Dr. Haider Warraich, a cardiology fellow at Duke University and author of the book Modern Death has rendered a definition. He says Comfort Care usually refers to palliative care, which focuses on managing patients’ symptoms to keep them comfortable and retain their dignity.

Medications and modalities are given to maintain the comfort of the patient. In Mrs. Bush’s case, with her congestive heart failure, fluid pills or injections were given to remove the extra fluid from her body; medication was given to ease her breathing. This is so the opposite of what some feared with Comfort Care, that all treatments were removed. No CPR or breathing machines would have been used in this scenario.

One of the main problems is that we sometimes continue the fight so long that by the time “Comfort Care” enters the picture one may be in the clutches of death and the true period of time to enjoy family and life may have already passed.

Embrace the thought of “Comfort Care” as an aspect of palliative care. Do have that sometimes difficult and awkward talk with family and friends. Let it be known what your wishes are for the end of YOUR life so that it may be at time of celebration, comfort and dignity.

Dr. Veita Bland is a board certified Greensboro physician and hypertension specialist. Dr. Bland’s radio show, “It’s a Matter of Your Health,” can be heard live on Wednesdays, 5:30 p.m. on N.C. A&T State University’s WNAA, 90.1 FM. Listeners may call in and ask questions. The show is replayed on Sirius 142 at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays. Email Dr. Bland at