As soon as we hear the words, palliative care, all sorts of images pop into our minds and, of course, they are all negative.
What does palliative care mean?
The Oxford Dictionary states: “to make less severe”. Wikipedia, states, “palliative care is an area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients, which includes, the treatment of curable or chronic disease, using the multidisciplinary approach”.
The World Health Organisation’s approach to palliative care “improves the quality of life of patients and their families, when facing problems associated with life-threatening illnesses, through the prevention and relief from suffering, the early identification, impeccable assessment and treatment of pain as well as other problem which include physical, psychosocial and spiritual issues.”
Now that we have defined palliative care, what does it all mean?
When the doctor says that there is nothing more to be done and we need to think of palliative care, these words put us into a total spin, when in fact, palliative care begins when the diagnosis is made. How many times have we kept quiet when we have had pain? How many times have we kept quiet when we are nauseous or have been vomiting, but when asked, ‘how are you?’, we answer, “fine”.
Palliative care is used to make you feel better, the pain less severe, and improve your quality of life. So next time you are not feeling well, say so. It is our duty to do something about it.
Palliative care is the holistic approach that includes patient and caregiver support, Assistance covers spiritual, psychological, and physical support. This means that when the doctor offers palliative care, they are suggesting that the patient has a limited life expectancy. Palliative care is safe and an effective mode of treatment that promotes dignity, comfort and support, for a limited time.
Pain is one of the most debilitating conditions patients may experience. It affects us, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. Therefore, pain management is one of the most important factors of palliative care.
Pain should be assessed properly and the appropriate medication should be given, according to acknowledged pain. It is best to allow the doctor to treat the pain. Morphine is the most commonly used drug in the treatment of severe pain. According to the patient’s assessment, the morphine will be given, to relieve pain and anxiety which allows the patient to have a better quality of life.
Palliative chemotherapy is used to manage pain when the chemotherapy has not worked on the underlying cancer, in instances where one of the tumours, could be pushing against an organ, causing pain. The oncologist will then decide to administer palliative chemotherapy to lessen this effect and relieve some of the pain.
Palliative radiation is used in cases when the palliative chemotherapy does not work, for example, a tumour in the brain. Palliative radiation will relieve some of the symptoms.
Some of the other areas in which palliative care can help:
- It affirms life.
- Intends neither to hasten, nor postpone death.
- Offers a support system, to help patients live as actively as possible until death.
- Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care.
- Offers a support system, to help the family cope during the patient’s illness and with their bereavement.
- Will enhance the quality of life, and will also positively influence the course of the illness.
All of these benefits lead us to believe that palliative care is not a negative experience but one that helps us understand that when there is a limited life span, we can still have quality of life.
Palliative care can begin at home by making the patient’s life easier. As the disease progresses, the family can look at alternative arrangements, such as Hospice.
Whether you are a patient, caregiver or family member, palliative care, should be seen as a positive form of treatment, at a time when everything seems to be bad news.
Written by Sister Bernice Lass