GUADALAJARA, Mexico – With therapy dogs, toys and colorful surroundings, children with incurable diseases are comforted at a public hospital in this western Mexican metropolis.
The Palliative Care Unit at Guadalajara’s Hospital Civil, the only one of its kind in this country, welcomes 11,000 youngsters every year with the goal of improving their quality of life so that both they and their families can find a little peace.
Dr. Yuriko Nakashima Paniagua, the woman who manages the unit, told EFE that minors are treated here for such conditions as cancer, burns, kidney failure, cardiopathy, neurological disorders, while premature babies and infants with serious birth defects are also given tender loving care.
The unit looks more like a playground than a hospital – the lights, colors and aromatherapy create surroundings geared to calm the kiddies the minute they come through the door.
Patients come here “that nobody else wants to take care of” because their health is in a steep decline or because they “have little hope left,” Nakashima said.
Many of the little ones are undergoing months of therapy, others are still hospitalized or are suffering a terminal illness and were sent here so their pain could be relieved a little.
“When little patients come here for the first time, they’re often scared because they don’t know where they’re going. And many don’t like it when they stop being given palliative treatments because they think it means they’re dying, and that’s a mistake,” she said.
Medical personnel greet the kids kindly and make their therapy a sequel to games, music and even a car driven by remote control up and down corridors decorated to look like a highway.
Childhood suffering is soon transformed into a smile and the sparkle returns to the kiddies’ eyes as if they don’t care at all if doctors inject them, give them a saline solution or examine them any which way, or if they just have to stay in bed.
The sweet attention provided by this unit makes them forget their sickness for awhile, Nakashima said.
Besides the therapy with toys and the help of psychologists, the youngsters have a rehabilitation area.
Never to be absent from that part of the unit is man’s best friend, a couple of doggies trained to help with the tots’ physical and psychological rehab.
With their obvious concern, the dogs urge the children to move about, socialize and stop being scared. Throwing a ball for the pooch to catch is the most subtle and stimulating physical therapy for kids imaginable, Nakashima said.
The dogs, she said, comfort patients in rehab or in therapy, and keep them from being afraid of having a transfusion or a catheter inserted.
“Dogs relax the youngster, they’re good company,” the manager said.
The unit is not all happiness, of course – some children come here to spend the last few hours of their lives.
The program of palliative care allows youngsters to be surrounded by their dear ones without restrictions to make the experience less painful.
Doctors accompany the families and help minors depart painlessly to the sound of their favorite music and surrounded by their most valued objects.
“It’s giving them a dignified death, so they can go rest in peace. Who wouldn’t prefer to die surrounded by the things they’ve enjoyed and the people they love?” Nakashima said.