Palace of Care – Keeping a Promise

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In our family, our word is our bond. When we say something, we mean it. We promised him we wouldn’t take him back to hospital after his first operation. But we broke the promise because he was too unwell. He had another operation but it didn’t work out, everything fell apart. He was in too much pain. We again promised him not to go back to hospital, but then the blood clot happened. He was in so much pain, and we had to wait so long before the nurses would come to see him. We were all crying, all three of us.

He wants to go home. Even if it is just to die at home. To watch one more football game with his son. That’s all he wanted. To go back to the home that he built for us. We kept asking them to let him go home. Instead, they sent them here to your hospice. This place is nice enough. You people are all nice, but he wants to be at home and spend time with his family.

This morning he’s different. He’s lost all hope. He started saying goodbye to his house. He thinks he’s never going to get back there. He thinks he is going to die here. We had to get out of hospital yesterday. We couldn’t take it any more. We’ve broken our promise to him again, to take him home. I’ve never seen him like this before. What can we do now?

He’s really unwell. I think his bowel is blocked. I think he is dying. He might only have days left to live, but it could be much shorter. We haven’t been able to make him comfortable yet, but time is running out. We have a chance to get him home today. I’d rather he be more comfortable but I’m worried that if we don’t get him home today, he will miss his opportunity. I know how important it is to him and the whole family to get him home. We can make it happen today.

I’m going to stop the blood thinning medication, as it won’t be able to help him any more. I’d much rather he die quickly from a blood clot than die slowly from a bowel obstruction. I know how much he hates vomiting and making a mess. I know you are all still upset about what happened in hospital but I need you to focus on your husband while he is still alive. You can sort out the hospital stuff later. Right now we need to teach you how to give him injections so that you can look after him at home. All right, we need a bit of time to sort out the prescriptions and other stuff. We’re going to make this happen.

Palace of Care – Goosebumps

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What’s in the bowl on the table?

That’s sand and a shell from his favourite beach.


Yeah, and in the bottle is seawater from the beach. He spent a lot of time on that beach and in that water during his life.

Wow, I’m getting goosebumps just hearing about it. Oh hello, Aunty, how are you?

I’m good. Just let me play him something on my phone.

Oh, what are you playing?

Sounds of waves hitting a beach.

From his favourite beach?

No, but most beaches sound pretty similar, right?

Oh right. That’s a really nice thing to do.

The beach and water are where he is heading. He’s going to see his Uncle and they will go sailing together again.

Just like when he was a kid.

Yeah, that’s when his lifelong love of sailing began. He told us today that he’s ready to go. Do you think he will die today?

He might do, but that’s what I said six days ago. I’m not sure, he’s stronger than most humans. But he may have finally let go. No matter what happens we will keep him comfortable.

Thank you.

I think therefore I am? – Chosen One

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There’s usually one person in the family who is the go-to person when it comes to anything to do with death and dying. They are the one that everyone else relies upon when times get tough. They are the one who is called when a life is at risk. They are the one that everyone else counts on to get them through tough situations. They are there to liaise with the medical teams. They will drop everything to attend to the needs of the unwell person, even if it means their own needs do not get attended to for some time. They are the one who copes on behalf of everyone else. They will translate the bad news into more acceptable language.

They didn’t get a choice in these matters. Everyone else just turns towards them. They end up being a key conduit of information, from the family to the healthcare team. They will also relay information from the healthcare team to the rest of the family. The bad news may be broken to them in the first instance and they will broadcast the message in a way that their family will understand.

It’s difficult being that person. You are so busy taking care of everyone else, that you don’t leave much in the tank for yourself. You keep on doing your assigned roles. Someone has to do it. When everyone else is busy grieving and crying, someone has to call the Funeral Director. Someone has to organise the service, the funeral booklets, what songs to play, and what speeches are to be presented. No time to grieve when there is so much to do. That can wait until everyone else is taken care of.

Sound familiar?

Palace of Care – Fathers and Sons 3

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Generations of his family came together to join the bedside vigil. Grandchildren who were out of town came home to see the beloved ol’ fella. His cheeky smile was still there to greet them all but with each day his energy levels decreased. He needed to sleep more. His appetite dropped off steadily.

They knew time was short. At the start of the admission, over a week ago, they had been told there might only be days left. Dad kept on proving them wrong. He would still rouse to their voices but had become too weak to talk.

The son came in every day and saw his father melting away. Intellectually he was prepared for the loss of a parent. The scenario had played out in his mind ever since the diagnosis was confirmed. The emotional organs always took much longer to catch up with the thoughts.

How much longer could he go on? He had always been strong, but nobody expected him to still be alive. The hospice staff were just as surprised.

“I’m not sure how long he’s got left. If it was anyone else they probably would’ve died last week. I’m not even going to try to guess. He is getting closer, his breathing is changing, and he has become more agitated. It could be hours to days, but that’s what I told you two days ago. He’s going to do things at his own pace, in his own way, just like he always has.”

The son was on the other side of town when the call came through. He raced back in his powerful car as fast as he could, but he was too late. A lifetime of memories washed over him as tears tracked down his cheeks. He had to put his grief on hold as his assigned role in the family took precedence. Someone had to find a funeral director, organize the memorial service and look after everyone else. Again. He took a deep breath in, sighed, and started making phone calls.

Palace of Care – Fathers and Sons 2

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It had been almost two months since the treatments had stopped. It was the right thing to do as the treatments could not be given in a safe manner. It was deemed too dangerous to continue, thus they were finished. The blood test results were all highlighted in the abnormal hue of red. The organs had stopped working long ago, the treatment had been trying to replace the organ function. It had worked until other more important organs started to dysfunction. The family was informed of this change, his son knew exactly what this would mean. Time was going to be short, no one could say exactly how short, but he expected his father would die soon.

Almost two months later and Dad was still doing okay. He had continued to live his life the way he wanted to, as always on his own terms. He had worked almost twenty years longer than most people would have. A physical job that exhausted men decades younger than him, but one he had done until less than two years ago. He’d beaten the odds once again. How long could he go on like this? In the past few days, it seemed like life had caught up with Dad. It was subtle to start with, with more fatigue than usual, and a smaller appetite. At times Dad didn’t know where he was, but he could soon be reorientated. Then he almost fell over a few times. It was more of a slow-motion slide to the ground. Gravity had seemed to slow down around him, and he slid joint by joint to the floor. Although he had lost a lot of weight he was too heavy for his partner to lift off the floor. This had started happening more and more times. A call for help was made, and a team came to see him at home.

I was told that apart from the near falls, the nurse couldn’t find anything else needing attention. They thought he might only have weeks left to live. They recommended that he go into residential care as he would be harder to look after as he became more unwell. I had a different opinion. I had seen this play out too many times before. When people start falling it is a sign that the end is drawing closer. I thought further deteriorations were about to occur, that there would soon be a crisis. I arranged an admission into our inpatient unit.

On arrival, he was still pretty good. Able to walk in and converse with our staff. There was no discomfort, he was relaxed and happy. He and his partner settled in quickly. Over the weekend the family arrived and spent time with him. His son was glad that Dad had been admitted, and that the family’s distress had been relieved. The doctors said they’d see what happened over the next few days.

Two days later and Dad needed help to get out of bed. His arms and legs had lost their strength overnight. A further deterioration on top of those that had occurred already. Dad was starting to slip off the edge of the cliff. If he continued to descend at that rate, he might only have days left to live. The son came in again to have an important conversation with him. To find out what he knew about his condition.

“It’s pretty shit. I don’t have much time left.”

“Is there anything you still need to do, to sort out?”

“No. I’d like to see my siblings and our family.”

“Okay Dad, I’ll make some arrangements.”

A steady stream of visitors came over the course of the next week. Every day his son would check in with him. Every day Dad looked a tad smaller. His happy smile was still there but he became less able to follow conversations. Every day he slipped a bit more cognitively.

A steady stream of visitors came over the course of the next week. Every day his son would check in with him. Every day Dad looked a tad smaller. His happy smile was still there but he became less able to follow conversations. Every day he slipped a bit more cognitively.

Palace of Care – Please Keep Him Alive

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I’m very worried about your father, I think he only has a short amount of time left.

The doctor yesterday said he might only have one to two weeks left to live.

That would have been right yesterday, but your father’s condition got worse overnight. He had a lot of pain, agitation and distress. I am worried that he might die possibly within hours to days.

Dying? You think he is dying?

Yes. You’ve noticed his breathing becomes faster, then it slows right down, and then there are gaps in his breathing. This is what we see when people are dying.

Is there anything that you can do to keep him alive? His son is on his way from overseas, he’ll be here by this evening. Can you give him food or fluids?

He’s unable to swallow anything. If we fed him it would make him choke. The safest way to give him fluids is to keep his mouth moist.

Could you put in a line, and give him fluids and nutrition?

We don’t do that as his body is too unwell to cope with food or fluids. Extra fluids could lead to painful swellings, or worsen his breathing. His body wouldn’t be able to digest food even if we put a tube through his nose, down his throat and into his stomach. He wouldn’t be able to digest the food. This might cause vomiting, and could lead to diarrhoea. We don’t want to make his tough situation even worse.

How about Oxygen? Could that help his breathing?

I’m not sure. We can check his oxygen saturation level. If it is low he might get some benefit from having oxygen.

Is there anything else you can do to keep him alive?

We are at the limit of what humans can do, it is now up to higher powers than us. We can make him comfortable though.

Will it help us to wake him up when he is sleeping?

Probably not, he is too unwell. He knows his son is flying over. He will try to hang on. I’m worried that they might not be able to see each other again.

He can hear and understand what you are saying. He will try to respond to you but he probably won’t be able to. We want to look after him well and get him and you all through this.

Thank you, doctor.

You’re welcome. Please take care and rest when you can.

Palace of Care – Everyone’s Crying

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This hospice place is nicer than the hospital.

It’s noisy in the hospital. People rush around. They only let me stay a little bit.

What’s going on?

Something is wrong.

Dad’s crying again. Louder this time.

Why are my Uncles and Aunties crying too?

Why is Poppa crying? I’ve never seen him cry before. Nanna is crying too.

Mama, why is everyone crying?

Mama, wake up. Mama. Wake up.

They all look sad. They cry real loud. Like me when I hurt my big toe.

Was it something I did?

Makes me want to cry too.

One of those nice ladies has come in to check on Mama.

They all look different but they all wear blue. Mama called them nurses.

They all are nice to me.

They’re all saying that Mama is gone, but she’s right there in front of me.

Silly grown-ups. Can’t they see she’s still in bed? Dad’s still holding her hand.

Okay, Aunty. I’ll go for a walk with you to the shop.

Hey, there’s a lady dressed like a clown. Clothes. Lots of colours, like a rainbow. The long hair is colourful too. Mama would laugh at the Lady Clown.

Why is there a Clown in the hospice? I want to talk to her.

I think therefore I am? – Chinese New Year Family Photos

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Chinese New Year is a time for family to gather. People make their way home from all over the world for a chance to catch up with each other. It’s a time for the annual family photo, making the most of the opportunity when everyone is there together. A rare occasion these days to have the children and the grandchildren altogether in one place at one time.

Looking back the old photos tell a story of a family’s life together. Over the years the pictures change. The parents get older. The children grow up and become parents themselves. The next generation is welcomed. The family dog looks less and less alert. The first grandchild is joined by another. A few photos later and there are more babies. The family dog disappears from the photos. The children look more tired and world-weary. The grandchildren look taller in each new photo.

The photos of the past three years looked different as many families could not gather for their annual reunion. Replaced by screenshots of virtual gatherings. Better than not seeing each other at all, but not quite the same due to lag and other factors. Not being able to taste Grandmas’s signature dish, her stir-fried rice vermicelli. Not being able to eat New Year Cakes together. No red packets could exchange hands.

As time goes by the photos will change even more. The grandparents start to look elderly. The parents start to have grey hair. The young ones may not be able to make it back due to university or work commitments. The eldest grandson proudly presents his grandparents with the first red packet he earned himself in his first year of working. Pure pride beams in the smile of his grandmother as she receives the auspicious gift.

People start to disappear from the photos as health issues start to wreak their havoc. One of the grandparent’s faces looks different after the stroke. The following year there is a gap in the space where one of the parents always stood. Two of the grandchildren will have to finish growing up without one of their parents.

The family tradition will persist. The gathering, the family meal, followed by the family photo. The life changes will continue to occur and will be writ on the faces of those photographed. The ups and downs of the year. The challenges encountered, the successes and failures. What we have gained and what we have lost all feature in these family photos.

1,2,3 everyone say, “Cheese.”

Palace of Care – Team

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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 – Surprise!

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“Where is your pain?”

He grimaced as he pointed towards the left side of his neck.

“How would you score it out of 10, with zero being no pain and 10 the worst you’ve ever felt?”

Jaw clenched tightly he opened his gritted teeth to tell me, “7 out of 10.”

It looked more like 17.

The pillow seemed to swallow up his head. Loose skin covered his arms and torso, signs of significant weight loss.

“I’m not sure if I’ll make it.”

He was scheduled to be heading home at the end of the month, but I was unsure if he’d still be alive at the end of the week. “I don’t know either, but we’ll take it one day at a time.”

Over the next three days, he worsened each day, heading back home was not going to be an option. The family would have to bring home to him instead. They made urgent plans to travel to visit him. The clock was ticking away his life. Would they make it in time?


Their arrival had a surprising effect.

His face brightened when they came to see him. He became more alert and he was able to recognise each of his family members.

The next day he was able to eat more food.

Two days later he walked to the bathroom without assistance.

Five days later he wanted to go to the home of one of his local children.

His family’s arrival from afar had improved his condition in ways that medications could not.

The power of love had provided him and his family with bonus time. It might not last long but they would make the most of it at home together.

He died twenty days later surrounded by his family.