And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one weak creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up!
Author: Charles Dickens
A life-threatening illness is never easy for a family to deal with. It comes with a swath of painful emotions, including fear, anxiety, worry, grief, guilt, denial, anger, and many more. The family’s mental health and spiritual needs are rarely addressed by traditional methods, and they’re forced to look elsewhere for mental and emotional aid. Palliative care is meant to help in times like these, and through its process has the ability to improve quality of life, help understand and deal with the illness, and provides help and guidance to both the patient and their family.
Palliative care differs from traditional medicine in one primary way. It’s not meant to treat the illness itself or its causes, rather, it seeks to relieve the physical, mental, psychological, and emotional symptoms. More specifically, palliative care does not remedy the disease, but everything related to it. Often, palliative care is most applicable to terminal illnesses, such as cancer, or AIDS. In these cases, the patient and/or their family may choose to continue or stop traditional medical solutions, such as surgery or chemotherapy. Regardless of the medical course they choose to take, they will often turn to palliative care throughout the process, for things such as coping mechanism and pain management. Ultimately, the decision to go ahead with palliative care is a very personal one, and has more to do with the patient’s mental and emotional state, rather than their health.
Many doctors, unfortunately, are not prepared or willing to discuss palliative care, as it doesn’t fall under the realm of traditional medicine. Because palliative care has nothing to do with disease treatment, patients are often forced to look elsewhere for information on the topic. A common misconception is that palliative care can only be accessed or administered in a hospital, which is incorrect. With the help of a professional, it can be made accessible in ones’ own home, in a nursing home, or in a hospice. It can also be done in a hospital, alongside traditional medical treatment, or simply on its own. It is also not limited to any specific point in the illness period, available to patients at any time during a serious illness. When it comes to illness, palliative care is usually administered with the goal of reliving pain and other symptoms. However, that’s not all that palliative care is. It’s capable of addressing a patient’s emotional, spiritual, and physical needs, covering everything that they and their family would have to deal with throughout the illness.
When a patient does make the decision to utilize palliative care, they can choose to involve any number of professionals, such as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, religious leaders, and other professional health and wellness specialists. Unlike hospice care, which is only available at the end of life, or when other treatment options have been exhausted, palliative care can come into play at any stage of the illness. Most importantly, palliative care is crucial in helping patients come to terms with their illness, and cope with the reality of end of life, something easier said than then.
Palliative care is best suited for issues such as pain relief, physical comfort from side effects and medications, spiritual and psychological aid, communication and education with medical professional and family members, cultural and spiritual needs, quality of life following the illness, grief counselling, and post end of life planning.