By DR YVONNE LUXFORD
Think ahead (hopefully a long way ahead) to your last days. How do you want to go? At home, surrounded by family, in a specialist hospice with an expert team keeping you comfortable?
If you’re anything like me, you spend half your life making plans and choices – from the type of coffee you like to kickstart your day, location of your next holiday, to where you want to live, and how you’ll save for your kids’ future. Why is it then that we leave something as important as our end of life care to chance? Are you one of the 50% of Australians who haven’t spoken to our loved ones about what we would want?
Palliative care is all about providing the best quality of life at the end of life. Of course it’s about managing physical and emotional pain and discomfort, but it’s done in a holistic way with a genuine focus on the individual. People with a terminal illness and their loved ones tell us palliative care provides them with a level of support that they simply hadn’t expected – it truly does help them to live well until the end. What worries me is that it comes as such a surprise to people that this is the type of care they can, and should, expect.
None of us want to deal with the situation faced by T, who struggled to fulfil her father’s dying wishes. Apparently unbendable hospital rules led to T’s father being transferred from a nearly empty rural Queensland hospital, where he was gently dying close to the community he loved, to a nursing home an hour’s drive away. His community priest drove to visit him but had lost the nursing home address. Despite knowing the priest well, the hospital would not divulge the nursing home details, and the priest did not arrive in time. However, T was with her father the whole time, giving both of them great comfort. But T’s grief and sense of mistreatment of her dad will take a long time to heal. Memories of the care of the dying remain with those left behind.
I recently met a lovely NSW woman whose father-in-law was adamant he wanted to die at home. He spent his final weeks in his own bed, surrounded by bustling family activity. And love. Family meals were shared at his bedside, games of cards were played across his feet, and the little kids staged concerts for his “entertainment”. He was kept comfortable with the advice and support of a palliative care team, who gave practical advice about what to do when the time came. He slipped away peacefully in the middle of the night with his beloved wife holding his hand.