Palace of Care – True Flies

Photo by Dieter Pelz on Unsplash

Every summer the hospice is visited by thousands of flies.

We are situated next to a big park and flies are a constant presence in the warmer months.

They can be really annoying for our patients who may be too weak and tired to fend them off. Their family members may also have troubled keeping the flies away.

Every summer I have said that I would bring in an electric bug-zapping racquet to deal with the flies.

This summer I finally brought one in.

In recent weeks as well as doing a medical round I also do a fly-catching ward round at least once a day.

I made myself available 24/7 on-call for the purpose of catching pesky flies. I can be called in any time of the day or night.

This has led to great amusement for patients, family and staff members.

Yes, I am probably the most highly qualified pest control worker in the country.

As well as catching flies I practise some medicine as well.

I clear each room of flies and then I head outside to the balcony area and get rid of the ones that are out there as well.

It’s one man against thousands of flies but if it makes my patients’ time slightly more bearable it is worth it.

It is also a good way to add to my daily step counts.

I will continue to catch flies and expand my repertoire of work roles.

This is especially important each and every Flyday.

Palace of Care – Yella Fella

I’ve never had my fingernails painted before. Today was full of new experiences. I didn’t plan the beauty session well. While my fingernails were drying, I took off my shoes and socks. I then painted my toenails. Two coats were applied as I tried my best to colour within the lines. I hadn’t brought any open-toed footwear and I didn’t want to walk around barefoot in our inpatient unit. I thought up an inelegant solution involving the desk chair on wheels I was seated on. If I planted my feet on the lower supports and then if I shifted my body forward I could slowly propel myself at a top speed of 1 cm per second. This could make for a long morning ward round.

My colleague took matters into his own hands and wheeled me down the corridor to see our patients. I wore my yellow scrubs with a yellow mask. My finger and toenails were painted yellow. If I was a soft drink I would be called Mello Yello. If I was a dog I would respond to Ol’ Yeller. My colleagues had joined in the fun and had painted their fingernails mostly yellow as well. Another colleague had worn yellow shoes. All of us travelling down the corridor briskly reminded me of the Yellow River. Our patient who had barely been conscious the other day expressed concern as to what our spouses would think of our coloured nails.

We toured the ward in a formation reminiscent of a ribbon around an old oak tree. As we reached the end of our jaundiced journey we knocked on the door of our inspirational patient’s room. Her family members were impressed by the shiny brightness of our polished nails. Smiles and laughter made their way through the room. Smartphone cameras clicked and the noise did not disturb the sleep of our patient at all. She was fast asleep and we were not able to wake her. The family took photos to show her later.

I was called back in later in the morning once our patient had woken up. As my toenails had finally dried I walked over myself. I showed off my yellow banana socks as I took them off to reveal my matching toe and fingernails to my patient. She smiled and laughed. Mission Accomplished.

She received some visitors from her workplace later in the day. I was told that her male colleagues had also painted their nails in solidarity with our patient and were going back to the office to solidify the support campaign.

Better stock up on the yellow nail polish, as there is about to be a worldwide shortage.

Palace of Care – Yellow Fever

Photo by Vanessa Bucceri on Unsplash

She had told her family about my promise to paint my fingernails to match hers. She had painted her nails to match my bright yellow scrubs. When I examined her fingers the nails were of many different colours. Some were yellow, others were black, pink, and red, all of them nicely painted. She showed her nails and she made us all laugh. This included both staff and her own family. I joked about needing help with nail-painting supplies, as I didn’t usually paint my nails. If I was going to do so then I might as well do my toenails. I shared with our audience that my yellow nails would go down well at the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu club I belong to. We all shared some more laughs before we came to the serious part of the family meeting.

I provided a recap of what had happened since our patient was admitted. She arrived with terrible pain, nausea and constipation. These symptoms were controlled with adjustments in medication doses over the first week. Well-controlled pain came at a cost. Our patient became confused at times. We had to make dose changes but we wanted to persevere and bring down the pain levels as much as possible.

Overall the pain and nausea improved but the confusion episodes worsened. We tried to prevent further episodes to no avail. I talked about the ongoing changes in her situation. Old problems became worse while new problems developed. We were trying to play catch up with a disease process that wouldn’t stay still. She had been having ups and downs due to medication effects but mostly due to worsening cancer.

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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.