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3 things you didn’t know about palliative care

This week is National Palliative Care Week, held from 22 – 28 May 2022. It is Australia’s annual initiative held to increase understanding of the benefits of palliative care.

Angie is a Wellbeing Manager with Feros Care, and has been a Registered Nurse for almost 30 years. She has a post-graduate degree in Palliative Care, having been inspired by the many people she has supported through palliative care.

This is her story.

As a Registered Nurse working in emergency and surgical settings, I was always exposed to death.

I quickly came to realise that death is never the same for anyone. It brings its own set of unique challenges and needs to each person. It is complex, it is emotional, it is part of life.

With palliative care, we have the opportunity to plan how a person can live their best life with a life-limiting diagnosis. It’s like giving them the most valuable gifts.

Here are three things I’d like to share about palliative care.

1. Palliative care is not just about the end of life

There is a myth that palliative care hastens death, and this is something I would like to see busted.

Palliative care is about quality of life and comfort care. It is an approach to care that enables a person to live their best life considering their circumstances – encompassing symptom control with social needs.

It is not about cure, but equally, not about causing death prematurely. And the palliative approach is effective for any life-limiting diagnosis, not just at the end of life.

To reflect on this, I have a favourite quote I like to share with families, by Ann Richardson – “We cannot change the outcome, but we can affect the journey.”

2. It’s okay to grieve early – but there is a lot of support

If you have a loved one who is going into palliative care, you have permission to start grieving early. You will need a hand to hold, and you will need to know that there are people you can trust.

As nurses, we care about you and your family, your friends, your entire support network. We care about assessment and careful symptom management. We have ways to manage pain, and end-of-life symptoms can be managed well these days.

3. Your nurses care more than you even realise

I still remember the turning point that sent me back to university to specialise in palliative care.

I was working with a young palliative mother. Through all the devastation, her goal was to have a message for her then-10-year-old daughter to be delivered to her on her 21st birthday.

I worked with her to buy a card and write out her memories and messages on the card. Then I helped her to gather photographs and place them all with an important piece of jewellery, neatly wrapped in a shoe box and tied up with a bow.

The box was given to her husband for safe keeping, and it was the greatest gift I have ever been involved in.

It’s what made me realise that the biggest rewards of my life, and career, were to put little bits of sunshine back into the lives of my patients. It’s what adds meaning to my job and makes it a vocation for me.

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