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Smiling through Tears

For terminally-ill cancer patients, Avedna Ashram in Jaipur is a haven, writes  Dr Nita Mukherjee

 
Avedna means absence of pain. While this is the one thing in life that all of us pray for, for the terminally ill, this hope alone can make life worth living. It is this hope that the Khailshankar Durlabhji Avedna Ashram offers.
 
The Ashram’s first brochure had spelt out the founder Rashmi Durlabhji’s vision thus: “We accept the inevitability of death as also the certainty of pain. When medicine ceases to play a role, when friends and relatives tire of providing support, Avedna Ashram steps in. Here we will add life to a person’s days when medicines cannot add days to his life…” The trustees appealed for “contribution in bringing peace and dignity to someone in pain.” The people of Jaipur responded, as they continue to do when they see the selfless service that the volunteers, as well as the professional staff of the Ashram, provide. 
 
Started in 1997 by Mr Durlabhji, a gemstone trader, in the memory of his father, the Ashram is now spread over a 64,000-sq ft, four-storey building. The hospice provides palliative care to cancer patients in their final days completely free of cost and is equipped with a modern blood bank, laundry, library and kitchen. Admission to the hospice is only on being certified as ‘terminally-ill’ by a doctor.
 
Hospice care is a special way of dealing with patients suffering from incurable illness. Unlike hospitals, hospices provide only passive medication. Patients receive emotional, spiritual and practical support to relieve pain and prepare them for death. In the US, the government provides hospice services free of cost. In India, so far, it is left to the non-government sector and charity organisations.
 
“We don’t offer cure,” says 77-year-old Shirish Mody, a member of the advisory committee of the Ashram. “We offer patients a chance to face the truth. We prepare them to confront pain, anguish and death. Hence, emphasis is on counselling and treating the spirit.” The Ashram has a prayer hall where multi-faith prayers are held every day. Free medical and nursing care is provided irrespective of community, caste or creed. Despite being surrounded by death, the staff maintains a cheerful face at all times to keep the spirits of residents high. “It’s not always easy to smile,” says Mr Mody, “but everyone is brave.” The atmosphere of cheer and hope has been largely responsible for the hospice’s success.
 
Even after spending Rs3.5-crore on the hospice, initially, few people came for admission. The stigma of ‘being dumped’ and an ‘old people’s home’ as being a ‘one-way ticket to oblivion’ so deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche remains. But slowly the word spread; now, of the 100 beds in the hospice, on an average, 80 are occupied at any given point in time. Many residents have come to look upon Avedna Ashram as a home. Some years ago, a 65 year-old goldsmith afflicted with lung cancer, even wrote a new will before his death, adopting the Ashram as his home and its inmates as his family. Till date, the Ashram has provided over 2,00,000 person-days of care to the terminally ill. The longest stay of a patient was over two years, the average stay being 20 days. 
 
On the ground floor, the Ashram has a Day-Care Centre for senior citizens with facilities like free medical consultation, yoga, physiotherapy, acupressure classes, indoor games (like carrom, cards, scrabble and chess), a well-stocked library and reading room. Fitted with ramps and lifts for the disabled, the Centre is open from 10am to 5pm. The Centre has a resident doctor and some beds for afternoon siesta. 
 
Volunteers organise several group activities: every month, there is a joint birthday party celebrating all the birthdays in that month. The one-time registration fee for the Centre is Rs200. Currently, 250 senior citizens are members. 
 
If you can smile through your tears, do volunteer. Donations are exempt under Section 80G.
 
Khailshankar Durlabhji Avedna Ashram SDM Hospital Campus
Bhawani Singh Road 
Jaipur 302015
Phone: +91-141-2566251

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