Palace of Care – True Colours

Photo by Rae Tian on Unsplash

I chose yellow as my favourite colour when I was five years old. It was the colour I used for the suns I drew. A bright colour that evoked a feeling of warmth. My kids bought me a set of yellow scrubs for Father’s Day. Really bright yellow scrubs. When I am wearing them at work most people will respond in some way.

The yellow scrubs seem to provide a lot of people with an almost religious experience. Many people after seeing them have said, “Oh my god.” They also cover their eyes with their arms and turn their faces away whilst grimacing. Other people have requested a warning before I enter rooms in order for them to prepare sunglasses or welding masks.

Some people who see the scrubs don’t like them at all. A small number of people have said they like them including a number of patients and their family members. For one patient it is their favourite colour. I have been particularly worried about them and I have been wearing them at least once or twice a week. I am worried my patient will die soon and I wanted to wear the yellow outfit as seeing it previously had made them smile and laugh. Especially the first time I wore the scrubs when the patient changed into a yellow outfit. We both also had colour co-ordinated socks. A colour co-ordinated coffin had already been purchased.

Yellow is the colour of many of the flowers around our hospice. The colour of the medication cards is also yellow. The patient with the severe itch from jaundice had yellow skin, and the whites of their eyes had turned yellow too.

Another patient has taken a liking to my bright yellow scrubs and requested me to wear them more often. The last time I saw this second patient they had painted their fingernails in a matching shade of yellow.

Hmm, what colour will I wear tomorrow?

Palace of Care – A Typical Day at Work

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

I started the day leading our Waiata Group. We gather together to sing songs once a week. My shy introverted younger self would never have imagined doing this as an adult. Public speaking is one thing, but Public Singing is a whole other level of stage fright. Feel the fear and do it anyway. You’re probably wondering why a Chinese guy was leading everyone in singing songs in Te Reo Māori I did it because someone has to and I think it is an important thing to do. We had various members of our teams, from clinical and non-clinical departments, joining in song. None of us was actually of Māori descent. Today we were joined by three special tangata whenua guests. One of our Māori patients and their whānau joined us singing:

Purea Nei

Tutira Mai Nga Iwi

Whaakaria Mai

Te Hokinga Mai

We were not pitch perfect and our Spotify playlist still needs some work. That was not the point though, we were there to learn and to culturally connect. The smiles in the room spilled out into our main corridor, and people passing through were disappointed to have arrived at the end of our 15 minutes of fun and fame.

Photo by Steven Libralon on Unsplash

A few minutes later I noticed a Superman shield tattoo on another patient’s hand. We ended up talking about Superman and his greatest weakness Kryptonite. The supervillain we were trying to defeat was Mamahi-Man who had caused severe pain over too many long weeks. I hoped that my medications would lead to Mamahi-Man’s downfall. I also asked about the stories behind the other tattoos on his knuckles. He said they had been chosen by each of his children, and each one represented other superheroes. Mamahi-Man doesn’t stand a chance when we have the whole Justice League/Marvel Cinematic Universe and many others on our side.

I think therefore I am? – Starts with P and ends with O

Photo by Ray Harrington on Unsplash

It’s important to celebrate the small victories we achieve in palliative care, as they are often hard-won. When the natural history of illness is one of disappointment and loss, it is important to mark the times of success. Our patient had not passed bowel motions for 11 days. With each passing day, she had felt less and less normal. She wondered if she would ever Poo again. When constipation has taken its toll for such a long time the treatments will be accompanied by pain. Not having the treatment will lead to more pain. We had tried the standard treatments of pills, soluble powders, and various products to be squirted in private, all with no success. We readied the special injection. If it worked it work quickly. The injection was provided and we all held our bated breath in concert. Within 20 minutes we had achieved a result. The cheering was heard from the doctors’ office, at the nursing station. Yahoos echoed down our corridor. I felt the urge to perform a cartwheel. Smiles all around at the arrival of the VIP – Vast Incredible Poo – time to celebrate. Fireworks were lit and the Poo party began.

“Ahhhhh. You’d better call the water department, because their pipes may be blocked as I just passed a two-metre-long Grogan!”
This story soon spread throughout our hospice.
The next day I met the patient for the first time, “Ah, you must be Mr Grogan?”

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I think therefore I am? – Gradients

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I went to medical school in the previous millennium. Back in the days when the standard dress code was to wear a shirt and tie. To tell the truth, it didn’t matter too much what you wore as it all had to be hidden underneath the doctor’s white coat that we would wear. I probably would’ve gotten away with wearing just a collar and tie underneath my white coat. I would’ve needed to have appropriate pant legs and footwear but probably could’ve gotten away with wearing pyjamas underneath the coat. Of course, this never happened as I was as sheep-like as everyone else and conformed to the standard dress code.

Once I graduated I became braver in terms of dress sense and I started wearing cartoon ties and otherwise quirky ties. I built my collection during my travels. I bought ties in places like Taiwan, Thailand and Kaitaia. Halfway through my first year of work, I went on a clowning trip in China led by Dr Patch Adams. This was followed by a reunion with my childhood friends in South Korea. On my return, I came to a decision. I decided to retire. All of my standard ties. I would only wear my cartoon ones from thence on. Over the next 21 years, I continued to wear Disney characters, Looney Tunes, Superman, Popeye, Fish, and many more.

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Palace of Care – Terroir

Photo by Rusty Watson on Unsplash

We celebrated International Nurses Day last Thursday with a special breakfast with lots of goodies for all. Nurses are a crucial part of any palliative care and hospice team and it was great to celebrate them with some special treats. Individual paper hats were made available each adorned with little red Superman style shields, thanking them for being heroic in the jobs that they do. Special little bags of sweets were prepared and handed out to all of our staff.

There was a buzz of mirth and fun throughout our inpatient unit and this was noticed by the patients and their families too. One couple commented on it being nice to hear raucous laughter happening outside of their room. It was nice to be staying in a healthcare institution where people were enjoying each other’s company at work. This couple had stayed in many different healthcare institutions over the past years and thus spoke from experience.

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Palace of Care – The Ties That Bind

Covid summer time and I’ve been wearing boring grey coloured scrubs for months now. As it became hotter I must admit that it has been good to not have to wear neckties – my usual trademark item.

My patients and their families usually enjoy them, so I will continue wearing them. They can be a good icebreaker, in that a doctor who wears cartoon ties probably isn’t so far up himself, chances are he’s approachable.

One Friday whilst wearing a rainbow trout on my neck I had asked my patient what tie she wanted me to wear on Monday. She said to wear a favourite one, and so I would.

I walked in and noticed that we had something in common. This had not been arranged and had happened purely by chance. Turquoise was the colour of my tie and the colour of her night dress, exactly the same colour.

Hey great minds think alike.

Yeah we both have great taste in colour.

I love Winnie the Pooh.

Heh, I’m the only doctor who doesn’t mind a bit of Pooh on his tie.

Haha, you know we have something else in common too.

Oh really, what’s that?

She took the turquoise short sleeve off her left shoulder revealing a Winnie the Pooh tattoo.

SNAP.

I was uncharacteristically speechless for a few seconds. Wow, synchronicity.

Tie requests were entertained over the next week, but then she became too unwell to choose.

When she was actively dying and unable to talk her family members presented me with something that she had wanted me to have.

Thank you, that’s really nice, I promise that I will wear it well.

Since then, on alternate Fridays, I wear a purple tuna fish around my neck.

3/80 of the ties in my collection

Palace of Care – Friday morning hospice ward round cryptic crossword

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

ACROSS
1: Impromptu quartet sang – One of the members in great need of a barbershop.
2: Wedding planners hard at work.
3: You took the words right out of my mouth – Rock cake, Crap.

DOWN
4: Worst fears confirmed with some relief evident
5: A torrent of emotional pain released as a primal scream.
6: My heart will go on?

1: Have you heard the one about the patient, her daughter, and her two doctors?

How did you meet your husband?

A lot of people have asked me that, they always want to know that. It was nothing to do with me, God made it happen. After we married we travelled to many of the Pacific Islands, as missionaries, we took our kids with us. He started off being a teacher, then he became a minister. I helped him with both. It was hard work but a good life.

You must have helped many people.

Yes, we enjoyed it very much. I really miss him, he’s been gone four years. I will be with him again, that’s the only thing I want now. To be with my husband again, back home.

You’ve been really unwell lately, but you have improved again. What makes you so strong?

You want to sing a song?

I’m not sure that’s a good idea, I don’t want to distress you with my voice. I once took singing lessons some years ago. My wife says I should find my teacher, and ask for a refund.

Go on, just one song.

Umm, I’ll do it if you sing with me. What do you want to sing?

Hmmm, you choose.

Let me think…Amazing Grace.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see

Sunbeam smile from the patient which lit up the room.

Daughter smiled and was able to truly relax for the first time in weeks.

Behind her mask the young doctor smiled in surprise at the simple beauty of the moment.

The masked older doctor smiled as he was reminded of why he works in hospice.

2017 ANZSPM Aotearoa Annual Conference and AGM

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We at Palliverse love a conference, especially one that “brings together doctors working in palliative care” in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The 2017 ANZSPM Aotearoa Annual Conference and AGM will be held in Christchurch this year. It all starts off with the Trainee Day on 11/08/17 which is open to all Palliative Medicine trainees, General Practitioners with a special interest in Palliative Care and Medical officers working in Palliative Care.

The 2017 Annual Education Update Programme is packed with many topics of interest, and will be a good opportunity to catch up with what is going on all over the country, as well as catching up with new and old friends. This year Dr Wendy Pattemore will be introducing a new session called, “Wild Successes and Fabulous Failures,” which will provide an opportunity to share how Palliative Care is done in your own ‘patch’.

To register you can either use this 2017 Annual Education Days and Trainee Day Registration Form or register via the website. Attendees must be ANZSPM members. Our friends from Australia are always very welcome!

For my reflections from the 2015 ANZSPM Aotearoa conference, click here.

I think therefore I am/Palace of Care – Hospice New Zealand 2016 Conference Keynote Presentation

Hi everyone,

Here is a copy of my slides from the Keynote presentation that I made on 16/09/16 at the Hospice New Zealand 2016 Conference.

I was intentionally being provocative and I was purposefully trying to challenge the audience’s mindset with the material that I presented, as I believe that New Zealand Hospice/Palliative Care needs to be “shaken up,” if it is to remain relevant. Now it’s your turn, you have been warned…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I am working on a version which will have clickable links, and also on a recorded live performance of the presentation. In the meantime the slides with comments have been loaded onto the Palliverse Instagram account.

Cheers,

James

Palace of Care – Hello

2POC2