HEALTH professionals recently reflected on their roles in easing end-of-life pain during National Palliative Care Week.
A team of medical staff at Glengarry Private Hospital in Duncraig are dedicated to helping in the Sandalwood palliative care unit, which provides care to people at the end of their lives.
Consultant physician Larry Lieuw said people generally did not talk about palliative care and its importance in ensuring people died comfortably.
“There’s a real need to put it out there, rather than keep sweeping it under the carpet,” he said. “Our society as a whole is not very keen to talk about death or dying.”
Dr Lieuw said palliative care became his passion after he took a break from being a junior doctor and took up a part-time role in this field.
“I’ve seen it done really well in a really inspiring way, and I’ve seen it done so badly,” he said. “There’s so much to do for people in that stage.
“It’s the most holistic version of medicine that I could choose to be in. It’s not so easy as focusing on illness – I’ve got to try and find some meaning for people.”
Dr Lieuw said the role involved advocating for patients to ensure they had dignity as they approached the end of their lives, but their focus was not on death. “I say to a lot of trainee doctors that I think palliative care physicians should be the strongest advocates for life,” he said.
The doctor said much of the work was about giving patients more “quality time” by easing their pain or giving them means to return home, such as getting a man who could no longer walk into using a wheelchair.
“For those of us who have made a life commitment to care for people at this phase of life, it’s extremely rewarding on a professional and personal level,” he said.
Clinical nurse specialist Tracy Robinson has worked with the unit for nine of its 11 years.
“We specifically look after people who require specialised palliative care, patients with life-limiting illness,” she said.
Ms Robinson said it was a team effort, involving the physician, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and dieticians, among others including volunteers.
“The aim is primarily to relieve the patient of their symptom burden and to improve the quality of their life in their final days or weeks,” she said. “It’s very challenging and difficult work, even though it’s rewarding.”
Clinical nurse Hayley Hammett has worked in the unit with Dr Lieuw since it opened in 2005 and said it was rewarding to be able to make a difference to patients and their families.
“We’ve got pastoral care here as well if we feel they need spiritual guidance,” she said.
Mrs Hammett said they held remembrance services twice a year for past patients, with the most recent one on May 30.
“Even that was rewarding and families come up and they have remembered you and they remembered little things you have done for them,” she said.
“Unless you’ve had the experience of losing someone close to you, you probably don’t realise the importance of palliative care.
“It’s a privilege to look after people in their final days.”
Granting of final wishes
After 19 years working in palliative care, enrolled nurse Sandra Passmore has a wish to fulfil patients’ dying wishes.
Having worked with the Sandalwood unit at Glengarry Private Hospital for almost 11 years, Ms Passmore said sometimes nurses only learnt about people’s lives after they died.
“I find it an honour and a privilege to look after people in their final hours,” she said.
“It’s finding out about their life – I like them to share what they used to do.
“I like to ask is there anything they would like to fulfil before they pass.
“Some like to see the ocean for the last time or see a sunset.
“We had one gentleman here and he said ‘I would love to go to the beach and feel the sand and the water’.”
Ms Passmore said she wanted to set up an organisation similar to Make-A-Wish, which granted wishes to sick children.
She said it would cater mainly for adults nearing the end of their lives and she hoped to engage ambulance services to help transport people who by that stage would be using wheelchairs or unable to get out of bed.
The nurse said the holistic care extended to the families of patients as well.
“The families have allowed us into their personal space during this difficult time,” she said.