Until recently, I had but the vaguest idea of what hospice and palliative care and medicine (hpm) entailed.
Until tuning into the #hpm Twitter group – hospice and palliative medicine – both words conjured a gloomy atmosphere of despair, grief, anger, pain en route to dying. I wondered at those working in the field: they must be a bit weird.
I now know differently, and it’s quite the opposite. The mission of the hospice and palliative care specialty is to ease patient suffering, to make patients comfortable, and to help patients and their families feel peaceful at the most painful possible time in their lives. Easing suffering is more than pain (although pain control is certainly a priority) it also encompasses meeting emotional, spiritual and cultural needs — both the patient’s and their families.
Palliative care, in my own words: Whether or not I’m dying immediately, or have a progressive condition like ALS it is the palliative team who will help make me feel comfortable, and ease my suffering; spiritual and emotional as well as physical. Palliative care can even take place in my own home. Research is proving palliative care in cancer treatment helps speed recovery, especially when put into place as early as possible after diagnosis.
Hospice care, in my own words: If I were dying, the hospice approach — which often includes palliative care — is to ease my suffering, and ensure my end-of-life is as comfortable and peaceful as possible.
How awesome is this?
What a relief for me to know there’s a team whose passion and purpose is to make me comfortable, should I be beset by a pain-filled illness/and or dying. And what a blessing for anyone I know and care about.
I’m happy that, through twitter, I’ve found Canadian Virtual Hospice whose mission is to provide information and support on palliative and end-of-life- care, loss and grief. With articles addressing issues such as rituals throughout the process of dying and death, and emotional health, virtual hpm experts are also at the ready to answer questions.
While I’m still wrapping my head around the extent of and expertise involved in both, I am coming to know and appreciate the people who work in hospice and palliative care. My learning is largely through listening to and learning from the #hpm twitter group – standing for hospice and palliative medicine on a Wednesday night hour-long tweet chat. Headed up by Christian Sinclair, palliative medicine doctor and blogger, everyone who participates is passionate about their goals and objectives. They are also super-sensitive to small but hugely important details, things like being aware of their own body language in patient care, tone of voice and touch.
Listening to the tweet chats makes me wonder about the emotional toll such intense, specific caregiving would take, and I am once again amazed, as I often hear that hpm-ers say they feel their lives have been enriched by their experiences, although they often face conundrums — and attendant emotions — for which there is no right answer. Along with compassion and empathy, strength, and humor, resourcefulness, respect and good communication skills, I believe those in hospice and palliative medicine must also have a special gene.
Thanks to the #hpm twitter community, for helping me learn – about these two distinct yet intertwined specialties, and about you and your passion. In turn, hopefully, I can help educate towards dialing down the anxiety often brought on by those two words.
Kathy Kastner is Founder and President of Ability for Life.