I’ve worked as a medical doctor for almost 23 years. In all of that time I have not worked in a health system but in a sickness system. The last 15 years of my career I have worked in palliative care where we deal with the end of sickness, the end of life. I look after people who are dealing with the consequences of Diabetes and other long-term conditions that people die of. People of Māori and Pasifika ethnicity in the community I serve die of these diseases and cancers at much earlier ages than the rest of the population.
In hospice/palliative care we pride ourselves on providing whole person care through a Te Whare Tapa Whā lens. Health is not just about tinana/physical health but must also include wairua/spiritual health, hinengaro/emotional health and whānau/social health. Why do we save the best care till last? All people of Aotearoa New Zealand should be receiving whole person care from pre-cradle until after grave.
With the New Zealand health reforms we have an opportunity to transform our health system into a wellbeing system. We have an opportunity to transform the lives of generations to come, to give them the opportunity for better quality of life, throughout their entire life span. Why save the best for last? What can you do today to make for a better tomorrow? Together we can do this, but it will require different mindsets.
Reincarnation was one of the topics of conversation in the first room this morning. Our patient was a believer and had told his wife that she would come back as a dog. Unfortunately one of their daughters had died only a few years ago. It is always difficult for parents to deal with, as it goes against nature’s order to have a child die before a parent. One of the tragedies in life that elderly people would like to avoid if at all possible. Their daughter had died but had left her traces everywhere.
She had always loved butterflies, and had grown lots of swan plants in order to provide food for her favourite Monarch butterflies. She had a keen eye for their caterpillars and could see them from a distance, their yellow, black and white lines indicating their presence. She especially loved the pupae/cocoons that would form as the caterpillars went through the biggest changes in their lives, metamorphosis. Coming out the other side of the process transformed, with a new outlook on life and the ability to fly. Looking so different in colour scheme and features. She had always loved to have butterflies around. In some cultures it is believed that butterflies are visiting dead friends and family members who have come to see you from the other side of the grave. This is a comforting thing to have your ancestors come to see how you are.
Our patient had been steadily deteriorating over the past week, and he and the family had derived some comfort in being visited by Monarch butterflies. It was thought that their late daughter/sister was visiting their father as he entered his final cocoon state, just before dying. I told them that when people die in our hospice we would affix a butterfly to the door.
I have often drawn cocoons on our patient list board to indicate that people are undergoing the final transformation in their life, the dying process. One in which everything starts to wind down, the heart, lungs and other organ functions change. A person becomes sleepier, and less clear in their mind, Nature or a higher power’s way of protecting the dying person from the full experience of dying.
“Please keep on talking to him, he can hear you, but might not be able to respond to you.” Family members were considering leaving for home to come back again soon, but I advised that he could die at anytime, and that traveling under lockdown restrictions was not as easy as usual. Probably better to hang around and support each other for a few more days.