I think therefore I am? – Blah Blah Blah

Photo by Pete Alexopoulos on Unsplash

A lot of importance is placed on the first thousand days of life and that is rightly so. The first three years of life are the formative years and can make all the difference in someone’s life. Some of the crucial attachments are formed and if things do not go well, there may be major setbacks which affect the rest of life in many ways.

What about the last thousand days of life? How a person lives in their final days needs to be considered. All of us who are born and live will one day die. Exactly when we do not know. People with life-limiting illnesses will live for much shorter periods than most people of similar ages. Illness has a detrimental effect on a person. Their physiological age no longer matches their chronological age. People with life-limiting illnesses can be thought of as frailer. Their organs are under strain from illness and may not function so well. They need the input of the whole multi-disciplinary team. Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy input may become essential components in maintaining functional ability and independence.

The New Zealand Health Strategy was published in 2016 and it aspired for all New Zealanders to live well, stay well, and get well. No mention was made of dying well, despite all New Zealanders dying at some stage. Also in 2016 was published the Healthy Ageing Strategy aimed to have, “Older people live well, age well and have a respectful end of life in age-friendly communities.” This was followed in 2017 by the Palliative Care (In)Action Plan, which talked about planning a lot of planning but not much action.

Hey, let’s form some committees to plan for planning to take action. That will only take ten years or so, by that time a miracle would’ve happened and death would’ve been cured. Not quite, but the biggest health sector reforms in a generation started taking place on 1 July 2022, revealing a mystery to be solved. What will happen to us all? What opportunities for long-term palliative care partnerships may become available? What opportunities can we make for ourselves to ensure that palliative care/hospice remains relevant now and into the future? How can we shape the last thousand days of New Zealanders’ lives? Time to be creative and innovative. Time for some alchemy, time to transform talk into action. What do we want palliative care/hospice to be like in five years? Ten years? 25 years?

Hey, wait a minute, we haven’t sorted out the five-year survival of the New Zealand hospice sector yet. Maybe that needs to be the top priority.

I think therefore I am? – Debriefs in brief

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Some cases will hit you in the emotional gut harder. Maybe the situation triggers something inside you, or the patient or their family members remind you of someone that you know. These are the sort of feelings that can be reflected upon during professional supervision sessions. Something has impacted you emotionally and you may not know what it was or why it had such an effect on you. The supervisor can help you to tease this out. It’s like they hold up a mirror that allows you to reflect on your emotional responses to the patient encounter.

The risk of connecting with another human is that as a human being you can feel hurt by the relationship. You need to make a connection to work with someone closely, but the connection puts you at risk of emotional harm. Strict boundaries may help delineate where you stand with each other. Some people you will identify with more and will feel closer to. Professional supervision sessions usually occur monthly and in the times in between, you need other self-care resources.

Debriefing with your team members can be a useful exercise and can lead to team building. Acknowledging the human feelings we all have felt dealing with the case. Some cases are tragic and sadness to some extent is unavoidable. Express the grief, and get over the loss, with your teammates. If you internalise the feelings too much they may make you feel unwell and you will be a less effective clinician. Informal debriefing with colleagues can be a good thing to do. Some cases will require a more formally structured and facilitated debriefing session.

If you are feeling upset about a patient encounter, your team members will likely be feeling similar. Talking through difficult cases with each other can be helpful. Don’t bottle up the emotions. Don’t take them home with you after work. Working in palliative care we do deal with lots of sad stuff, and it can get to you if you do not proactively take care of yourself and your teams. Self-care is an essential practice and is a crucial component of any clinician’s sustainable practice. Please look after yourselves and your teams.