Palace of Care – Phone a Friend

Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash

I was asked by a friend of our hospice to phone their cousin. This was because the cousin knew their favourite cousin had a long association with my hospice. The cousin’s friend of over five decades had always been unwell. They had inherited a genetic issue which led to lung damage from a young age, which led to chronic lung infection and scarring. A life lived in between many hospital admissions. The lungs had an unwelcome guest in the form of smelly bacteria, which had worsened already impaired breathing. As if there wasn’t enough on their plate along came cancer. The accumulation of all of the above resulted in worsened quality of life and increased struggles with activities of daily living. There was only so much one person could tolerate. A conversation about assisted dying was had with their family doctor as the law had allowed for this as a legal option for end-of-life care. The doctor assessed their patient as eligible. The second assessor had a different opinion. Request denied.

The patient was upset and didn’t know what to do. They phoned a friend to discuss this. The friend didn’t know what to do and phoned their favourite cousin. The cousin didn’t know what to do and phoned a doctor they knew at the hospice that would be willing to discuss assisted dying – still a taboo subject amongst many palliative care people in Aotearoa/New Zealand despite it becoming legal from November 2021.

I listened to the story and without full clinical details, I could only offer general advice for someone from outside of our catchment area. The person sounded unwell to me and might have less than six months left to live. They also sounded as if they needed more input from the local hospice service. The cousin said the hospice had sent a nice volunteer who was of the same ethnic origin to provide some company for the unwell friend. It was a nice thought but the hospice hadn’t checked a crucial detail. The volunteer’s English was limited, but they spoke the language of their ethnicity well. The friend looked similar to the volunteer in terms of ethnic features but had been born in New Zealand, only spoke English, and did not speak the ethnic language at all. Smiles and sign language could only go so far. It’s always better to ask rather than assume. Books and covers.

I suggested the cousin could encourage their friend to ask for more help from the local hospice as people in similar situations were being helped by hospices all around our country. I suggested that the patient could contact the assisted dying service to explain the outcome of the assessments made as the patient sounded as if they might fulfil the eligibility criteria. The cousin thanked me and said they would pass on my suggestions to their unwell friend. I felt it was a shame that their friend did not feel able to talk to their local hospice about their situation and assisted dying directly. I won’t make any assumptions about possible reasons.

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