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St Josemaria understood that suffering has a place in the plan of the Redemption. At the same time, he often said, “If it’s possible to get rid of physical pain, it should be got rid of. There’s enough suffering in life already! And when it can’t be got rid of, we offer it up.” This is the inspiration behind the “Hospital Centro de Cuidados Laguna” (Laguna Palliative Care Hospital) in Madrid, Spain. It is dedicated to caring for patients at an advanced stage of sickness, and elderly patients in need of help. The organization behind the hospital is the Vianorte Foundation.
Laguna Palliative Care Hospital, Madrid
Every year over 250,000 people in Spain require palliative care for pain relief and the control of symptoms related to terminal illness. The purpose of palliative care is to eliminate pain or reduce it as much as possible, and to improve the sick person’s quality of life to the maximum.
St Josemaria and the sick in Madrid
Laguna is now a fully-functioning concern, but it was set up fairly recently. On January 8 2003, just one day before the centenary of St Josemaria’s birth, a group of about 100 people met on the site of the future hospital, under the auspices of the Vianorte Foundation, for the ceremony of blessing and laying the first stone.
View of the Laguna building
The date was no coincidence. Throughout his life St Josemaria stimulated the setting up of all sorts of social, educational and charitable projects as an expression of people’s desire to help solve social needs, and he awakened this desire in the hearts of many.
Vianorte Foundation draws its inspiration from St Josemaria’s priestly ministry among the sick and abandoned in the 1930s, especially in Madrid’s General Hospital and the King’s Hospital , which specialized in serious contagious diseases for which, in those days, no cure was available. As he said himself, his apostolate in these hospitals and his contact with suffering were the roots from which he drew the spiritual strength he needed at the beginnings of Opus Dei.
“Helping patients enjoy the life that remains to them”
Laguna Hospital cares for the sick through palliative care, a day-centre for the elderly, a respite care centre, and a rehabilitation service for Alzheimer’s sufferers, as well as a training and research centre.
Volunteers are essential in the Laguna approach
“A widespread but false idea of palliative care,” says Antonio Noguera, Laguna’s medical sub-director, “is that the patients are extremely old, unconscious, and remain under sedation until the end of their lives. In reality, a patient may experience intense pain, breathing difficulties, fear, anguish, and have an anxious family. My work consists of treating all those symptoms and enabling them to enjoy the life that remains to them as much as possible, with their family close at hand. With the right medical and practical care, the sick can be perfectly conscious, calm, free from pain or with minimal suffering, and leading a fairly normal cognitive life.”
Maria Clavel, psycho-social team coordinator, adds: “The patients are not just lying there waiting to die. They are alive, and they will die when the time comes, but right now is the time for living, enjoying being with their families, and with the volunteers who come and see them, enjoying all sorts of things. Here we help them live to the very last day of their lives.”
Volunteers, part of a “little family”
“It’s an enormously enriching job which offers lessons you don’t get at school or at college,” explains a Laguna volunteer. “Things like the value of families in people’s lives, the importance of a loving smile, the deep treasure of love, the meaning of suffering, the meaning of hope.”