Palace of Care – Level of Detail

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

When it comes to being told stuff do you want to know the full details?


My colleague said that you want us to be straight up with you, is that right?


What did the doctors at the hospital tell you?

They said it was pretty bad.

Yeah. What happens with Leukaemia is that one type of abnormal blood cell takes over the bone marrow. The bone marrow is your body’s factory, it makes all the blood cells. The red blood cells carry oxygen around. The white blood cells fight infection and the platelets stop bleeding. The leukaemia is stopping all of these blood cells from being made. This is really dangerous as your immune system can’t work any more, and any infection is dangerous. You are at risk of bleeding. The leukaemia cells cram up your blood vessels and they can block them off which would cause painful areas to appear.

Nods slowly.

Did they give you a timeframe?


Would you like me to talk about your time frame?


I’m not sure how much time you have left. It could possibly be only days to short weeks. Things could worsen quickly and then you might only have hours to days left.


We want you to know that we are prepared for what usually might occur in your kind of situation. If you need emergency treatments we want them to be available at any time.


I’m sorry to have to give you bad news. If you still have important things you need to sort out, it’s better to do it now while you are still clear in the head. Better early than too late.

Points to his computer. That’s what I’m doing.

Good. What’s the most important thing to you right now?

Points to his partner. She wraps her arms around his head and cries into his hair. He clutches her arm tightly and cries into her forearm. They hold each other tight and sob loudly.

Let it all out. It needs to come out. You are safe here. We are all here to help you. We will get you through this, both of you.

Palace of Care – Team

Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

They had been a team for many years. It all started when they married. They raised their children well, and eventually became grandparents. That’s when everything started to change. He started to lose his memory to Alzheimer’s Dementia, his body was still in good working order. She started to lose control of her body to Multiple Sclerosis, her mind was still in good working order. They managed to cope well, making up for the other’s disabilities. She was the brains of the team and he was the brawn. They did well for the first three years and then their illnesses took away the last of their independence.

His cognitive impairment worsened and one day he decided to leave the house by himself. He drove off leaving her and the children to search for him. They called the police to help, but he could not be found until two days later. He was befuddled and unkempt when they found him. His main job before retirement was as a taxi driver. Despite his various impairments, he could still drive safely.

Her physical ailments worsened. She had become doubly incontinent and now needed full assistance with her activities of daily living. She suffered from recurrent urine and chest infections, which required hospital admissions. She had needed to be admitted three times in the past six months. The hospital team had asked her to complete an Advance Care Plan – ACP on the previous admission. This had been a difficult exercise but an important one. She was able to make it clear what she wanted and didn’t want. She had decided that if she developed another life-threatening infection, she would not want anything apart from comfort treatments.

I met her during the current admission. She had become unwell over the past week with aspiration pneumonia due to her poor swallowing. Fevers and shortness of breath were the main symptoms. Though the ACP had been completed and loaded onto the hospital system it was still ignored. IV antibiotics were given as well as fluids. When she woke up she was angry that her treatment wishes had been ignored. She had spent a lot of time preparing her ACP and it gutted her that it seemed to have been a futile exercise. She made it clear what she wanted and did not want. She asked for all treatments to be stopped, she had had enough.

Palace of Care – Existence

Photo by Marija Zaric on Unsplash

Yes, it’s become a struggle, every day.

I get halfway through making lunch then I have to rest. When I finish making it I have to rest again before eating.

Heh, my only entertainment is going to the lavvy. And that’s no fun.

Every time I move I need to go to the toilet. Nothing much comes out and it’s exhausting.

Sometimes I make a mess and that’s even more stuff to clean up. I don’t have the energy.

COVID. I thought it would be the end of me. I was almost disappointed when I recovered.

Don’t get me wrong, if I wasn’t sick like this I’d be happy to continue living, but I have these illnesses. Nothing is going away, it’s only going to get worse.

I don’t want to be here any longer than necessary. This is existence. Not a life.

Blood transfusion? What’s the point? So I can live longer to get worse?

No, I wouldn’t want you to treat a chest infection. Yes, Let nature take its course.

No resuscitation.

Yes, you do understand me. Thank you.

You listen to what I want, nice for a change.

Palace of Care – Chronic

Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

The chronic illness had been there for twenty years and had disrupted every aspect of their life. It had caused a lot of pain. It was finally diagnosed only four years ago. Treatments were started but never made a significant difference. The effects of many long years of untreated illness were permanent. Somehow despite all of their travails sense of humour was maintained and they had even maintained gainful employment. Others would have been changed into photographic negative images of themselves, but not this person.

They prayed to their God for a way out of the seemingly never-ending suffering. Some years later the prayers were answered in the form of inoperable cancer which at the time of diagnosis had already spread throughout their body. Actual relief was the response when they were given the bad news. That’s how bad quality of life had been. They had considered accessing the Assisted Dying service but thought it would be against their religion. Their end was in sight, cancer would provide a natural escape from suffering, but it still felt far too slow…

I think therefore I am? – No Surprises Policy

Photo by novia wu on Unsplash

The idea behind this policy is we do not want any patients or their loved ones to receive any surprises if there is something that we can do about it. We don’t want anyone to be surprised that they are deteriorating. We don’t want anyone to be surprised that their loved ones are dying. This is to give people as much warning as possible if major change is occurring. Signalling transition points allows a person to have some choice in their situation.

No surprise, if their situation is worsening and their condition is deteriorating. They need to know what is going on and/or their family need to know.
If they are told their time is limited then this can colour the choices that they make. What will they do with their precious time? Will they continue pursuing treatments of dubious benefit? Or will they spend their time and energy on completing important tasks with their family?

It doesn’t really matter what they choose, what matters is to offer them the opportunity to make their own choices in whatever situation they end up in. The uncertainty and loss of control in their end-of-life situation are hard for anyone to tolerate. If I can bring some order to their increasingly chaotic situation, it may make a significant difference.

No surprises for staff and volunteers either. How we treat people is important. If you were in the patient’s situation how would you feel? We want to give them as much advance warning as possible. Unfortunately, we don’t always get warnings ourselves. Sudden deterioration in hospice patients can happen at any time. We will try our best to let loved ones know if death is imminent. Sometimes despite the family’s 24/7 vigil, they might miss out on the moment of death. Some people just want to be alone when it is time to die, they want to spare their loved ones from the final moments. One patient couldn’t leave as the love in the room from their family was holding her there.

No surprises if someone is needing to be discharged, to be transferred to another care facility. We will give the patient and their family fair warning of any pending transfer of care.

Palace of Care – Hospice Sounds

Photo by Dan Cook on Unsplash

They hadn’t had much to be happy about over the past year. A progressive disease, no longer curable given how far it had spread throughout the body. They were determined to continue their chemotherapy despite the demoralising side effects. Most people would’ve given up after two cycles let alone completing 12 cycles.

A strong-willed person with too much to live for. It was the uncertainty that troubled them the most. They knew death was coming and had tried their best to prepare for it. The loss of control troubled them deeply. They found the advance care planning handbook to be useful in covering the practicalities of this part of life. Funeral arrangements were pre-planned, their will was finalised.

They’d been offered an inpatient admission months ago but they were not ready for it.

“Not yet doctor.”

Some months later they’d become more unwell, wracked with pain and distress in the hospital. They were glad to be admitted to our inpatient unit, and we worked with them to bring their pain under control and they were able to return home.

Over the next month, the rate of deterioration worsened. As per their request, we tried to keep them at home with their partner and their children. They came for an outpatient clinic appointment and ended up needing to stay in as an inpatient.

“How long have I got left?”

“I’m not sure, could be as short as weeks. Could be longer, most people don’t have the level of inner strength you do.”

Once comfortable they were able to relax and even smile. They were on the receiving end of input from the local Dad Joke specialist. Laughter was heard coming out of the room that last week had only witnessed tears. Their laughter was one of my best achievements of the past week.

I think therefore I am? – GPS

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

We’re not the driver of the journey. We are more like a GPS. We are here to help them in their travels. The driver is in charge of where they want to go and can indicate which route they would like to take to the destination. We are there to help highlight hazards along the way as this is a journey we help others with all of the time. We can point out obstructions or detours along the way. We can give a head’s up about what may be troublesome up ahead.

We don’t want you to have any surprises, we will advise you which route may be safer. The aim is for a smoother journey. You need to know what is going on and we will be there to help you navigate your way through foreign territory. We can map things out for you and will make useful suggestions. Whatever happens, we will be there for you and will do our best to understand and fulfil your needs.

Tell me what you need and we will strive to make things happen for you. This is an important final excursion that you are taking and we will be alongside you each step of the way. We know what changes to expect as we enter different phases of the trip. We are also there to provide support to the traveller’s loved ones to ensure they are kept up to date with each leg of the journey. To guide them through the transition points as everything continues to change.

All of the above is what you can expect from our self-caring rechargeable battery-powered Gentle Palliative Steadying system.

Palace of Care – Best Laid Plans

Photo by Pedro Miranda on Unsplash

Advance Care Planning (ACP) is recommended for everyone. It allows people to convey what is important to them. It can guide loved ones and health professionals as to what your wishes are in the case of you becoming incapable of expressing yourself. Such a situation is possible for anyone and thus it is recommended to be completed whilst you are well. Although it can be hard to imagine how you would feel or act in the event of severe illness or disability. ACP allows people to take some control of the end of their lives. This is what I want, this is want I don’t want. This is who I want around me. This is how I define what is quality of life for me. This is where I draw the line. It can be a confronting and difficult exercise to complete with your loved ones but it maybe a crucial method to communicate what you really want.

My patient had been diagnosed with MND (Motor Neurone Disease) over a year ago, and after attending the second clinic appointment they had introduced him to ACP. He read through the booklet with his wife, and it appealed to his organised nature. He always had a monthly, yearly and five-yearly plan in action. The doctor had said that most people would die of MND 18 months after diagnosis. This can mean time is running out, and this is not aided by diagnostic delay. All other illness have to be excluded before the diagnosis of MND is confirmed, for most people it is still a death sentence.

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Advance care planning week – webinar for consumers

Come along to talk to Dr Sonia and consumer Holli about advance care planning during Advance Care Planning week 2022. 11:00 24th March online

Palace of Care – The T-Shirt

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

My consultant asked the young man, “What would you like us to call you?”

He answered, “Your highness.”

“Okay your highness, how have you been?”

That was an entertaining start to the therapeutic relationship which put everyone at ease, and allowed for an air of playfulness to come into the clinical encounter. The patient was in his late thirties and had come into hospital with severe pain. It was likely due to cancer metastases, and he was still recovering from his last cycle of chemotherapy when we visited him.

He talked about what was most important to him, spending time with his young son. This was whilst he was carefully mixing flax seed oil into a serving of yoghurt, as part of a cancer treatment diet that he was trying. He would try anything to keep himself going and wanted to spend as much time with his son as possible.

Despite all the treatments that he had received the cancer continued to progress causing ever more problems. The side-effects of the aggressive treatment were severe and included the loss of his hair. He said that he had always had good hair, and it was one of his personal trademarks since he was a teenager. Now he didn’t mind losing his hair, and he had even designed a t-shirt for the sake of entertaining himself and those who looked after him.

He loosened his dressing gown and revealed his creation. In bold font it simply said, “Hair by Chemo.”