With palliative care/hospice patients and their fragile health status, there is a chance that every time you see them might be the last time they ever have a meaningful connection with a fellow human being. Things can change in an instant, people can lose consciousness or clarity. Keeping this in mind, try to make each interaction as pleasant an encounter as you can for the both of you. The following tells of an unpleasant distressing encounter.
I was asked to see an unwell Oncology patient, who was in a lot of pain, and possibly about to die. There was a language barrier in that he did not speak English, thus an interpreter was organised to facilitate communication. That was the idea anyway, what actually happened was different.
The man in bed looked fragile, he had trouble communicating with his family, as he was lapsing in and out of consciousness. The interpreter arrived, a young man, who looked nervous. He stood at the end of the bed and didn’t greet the patient or his family members. The patient was being prepared for a scan and might need to head downstairs at a moment’s notice, so time was of the essence.
Times of crisis can bring out the best or the worst in people. This is a tale from the dark side.
Before she became ill everything seemed to be perfect. Happily married to the love of her life, they were proud of their three adult children. The eldest already married and had produced the perfect grandchild. Second child a beautiful daughter who was talented, and about to enter the workforce. Youngest son, mummy’s boy, had started university and was on his way to doing something useful with his life. The family portrait was beautiful, three generations of the family all dressed in white shirts and blue denim jeans. What a beautiful family, united in their faith and religion. Stalwarts of the church, the example that the congregation all worked towards becoming. The golden family.
Illness arrived and caused major distress. The mother had always had alternative views to healthcare, had wanted naturally based treatments or no treatments at all. Unfortunately due to metastatic cancer she had to consider many different treatments, and many different medications to treat her symptoms. This soon became a torment for her, challenging her core beliefs. She tried to handle her pain as much as she could but it was so deep, so pervasive, so severe that even her iron will started to rust, to bend beyond it’s inherent structural integrity.
She was admitted in a pain crisis, having not slept for 10 days, woken by pain, exhausted with her family at their wit’s end as well. A highly distressing situation for them all. The facade of perfection had also started to crumble.