Palace of Care – Right to Choose

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Empathy – to try to imagine what another person feels like, to put yourself in their shoes, and to try to see things from their point of view.

Compassion – To identify another person’s suffering and to want to do something about it.

Autonomy – The right to make your own choices for yourself.

After years of training and more years of clinical practice, I try my best to practise medicine in a compassionate manner. I try to find out who they are, what drives them as a person, how I can help them in the way they want to be helped.

I try to do my best to inform them of their options, of what I think lies ahead for them. I try my best to take as much stress out of their individual and familial situations. I draw upon my years of experience and up-to-date knowledge. I am not afraid of showing that I care for them and I really want to help them out.

On occasion, they will reject my best-laid plans. They will resist my best attempts to sell them my product. They will not want what I have to offer. This is especially difficult when I am sure that my management will likely make them more comfortable, that it will probably lead to alleviation of suffering.

No, thanks.

Inside me a voice starts to talk – “What do you mean no? You can’t be thinking straight. I’m pretty sure I can make you more comfortable. Can you give it at least a try? I just want you to try something which I think has a good chance of helping you.”

Get out of the way son….

It is hard when someone chooses a path that will lead to more suffering, but it is their choice to make. Their right to do what they want at the end of their life. Just as it has been their right to choose what happened during the rest of their life, why does that have to change because they are dying?

It is hard to bear witness to someone else’s suffering when they don’t want to take the treatments we have to offer. I promise people that I will listen to what they want or don’t want and will be guided by them. I have to keep my promise. They have to do what is right for them and their family.

As health care practitioners we are only involved for a brief period of time. Our patients and their families have to live with the decisions they make for the rest of their lives. Generations of a family can be affected by the choices made. They have to do the right thing for themselves and we need to give them the opportunity to do so.

I think therefore I am? – If You Had A Choice

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

At a palliative care conference years ago the audience was asked to choose between two options. Would you rather die instantly without warning or would you rather know about it and die more gradually? We were instructed to think through both options for a few minutes before a show of hands was counted for each option.

Dying instantly, for example from a cardiac arrest, would mean less suffering for the dying person. It’s possible it wouldn’t be so bad for the person going through it. No fear of what was about to happen to them would be generated as they would be taken by surprise.

Ignorance may well be blissful but would have drawbacks as well. Total loss of control, and inability to finish important business. You’d be robbed of the chance to say goodbye to those important to you. You wouldn’t be able to leave your intended legacy. Death is associated with loss and sudden death is associated with its own set of losses. Those left behind would also lose the opportunity to say goodbye to you, to obtain at least some sense of closure. Survivor’s guilt, “If I had known he was about to die I would never have left them alone at home.” There may be more suffering for your loved ones, so many things they will never be able to say to you again.

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Bedside Lessons – 10. Freedom to Choose

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

Working in the community palliative care team I don’t meet in person most of the patients that are under our team’s care. I often have to provide advice for people that I have never met and have to count on my staff members’ assessments as the basis of knowledge of each patient. This is how our specialist support is provided from a distance, this allows me to have about 380 patients under my consultant remote control supervision at any time. Often I will provide advice which will be conveyed to the patient and their family doctor to be actioned.

This is the story of someone I never actually met but whom I provided advice on, an elderly Jewish lady who was a Holocaust survivor. I never found out which concentration camp she had lived through but somehow she had stayed alive when many had not. When she was young all control of her life had been taken away from her. Separated from her family whom she never saw again, made to endure hellish conditions, tattooed and emotionally scarred for life, she some how made it through her ordeal. She moved to New Zealand, married a local man, had children and grand-children and a rich and rewarding family life.

Recently her health had taken a turn for the worse and she was diagnosed with metastatic cancer with spread to her brain, causing headaches, and seizures. Despite having had radiotherapy treatment and high dose corticosteroid treatment her symptoms worsened. She was still clear in her thinking but was at risk of this deteriorating soon.

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Palace of Care – Lockdown Locks and Roadblocks

Photo by Mirza Babic on Unsplash

You really need a haircut.

Yeah, lockdown hair. I usually look different, like in my ID photo, I have a nose and a mouth under my mask.

So what do you want?

I’m here to find out how you are.

I can’t keep anything down, whatever I swallow comes back up. I’m too scared to eat anything. There’s something wrong with my poos too, haven’t been for four days, usually go twice a day. Last time it was black and sticky.

Do you have pain?

No, no pain but my tummy is getting bigger, sometimes it’s hard to breathe.

Hmm, listening to your tummy it’s very quiet on the left side, but loud on the right side. What do you think is going on?

I’m feeling worse, much more tired the last few days. What’s happening in my tummy?

We know that you have cancer in your tummy. It can act like speed bumps on a road, slowing down your gut traffic, that’s why your poos have slowed down. If there are enough speed bumps in your tummy they can act like a road block, then traffic can’t get through, and has to come back up, that’s why you’ve been vomiting. We can try to loosen up the roadblock with steroid medication, and we can try and push the traffic through with another medication, but…

But…Go on tell me, I need to know.

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