The focus of Palliative Care is the relief of symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family.
Palliative Care is used most often in either progressive, deteriorating diseases or terminal illness where treatment has been futile. Deteriorating diseases are those who progression cannot be stopped i.e. Alzheimer’s, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Kidney Failure, Parkinson’s and Cancer.
Palliative Care can be used in combination with other treatments modalities or as a standalone course of Care when all treatment has failed. Either way the main purpose is to alleviate pain and stress and keep the patient as comfortable as possible thus helping the family to cope with their anxiety.
The team consists of doctors, nurses and social workers, chaplains, nutritionists, massage therapists and others to assure comfort. Pain management is the central most important aspect of this type of care.
You might be surprised to find out all the ways that pain today can be managed. We have new medications and combinations of medications that enhance or make other medication more effective. Sometimes simply adding an anti anxiety medication or anti depressant to the treatment regimen allows the patient to relax thereby allowing the pain medicine to work more effectively.
In Illinois we are still working on how medical marijuana can be used especially with cancer pain. Some hospitals are approved or working on getting approved for its use. As an organization we too are looking at this and how we can provide the continuity of treatment prescribed in the hospital. You may be surprised to learn that there are currently over fourteen medications that are made from the marijuana plant.
If being used in a progressive disease like ALS the Palliative Care treatment modality can be used for years. The sooner the Palliative team can begin working with these patients the sooner relief is experienced by all. You do not have to be dying to benefit from Palliative Care.
The treatment modality is especially useful when a patient is in the dying process. Fear in people who are dying is rarely because they are afraid to die but more often because they are afraid to die in pain. In this day and age no one should have to worry about dying in pain. The advances in pain management and specific drug regimens should allow everyone to be comfortable at the end of life.
Unfortunately few doctors are specifically trained in Palliative Care. This is why it is sometimes necessary to bring in physicians and or nurses who have had that training. Since healthcare workers are trained to save lives by aggressive treatment they sometimes miss the point where Palliative Care is the best solution. Aggressive treatment at the end of life often time causes more pain and suffering for the patient. Death can be a beautiful experience if it is handled in a gentle and peaceful manner.
Having witnessed traumatic death, for example someone brought into the emergency room with a massive heart attack and a peaceful death, one that everyone is prepared for and where the patient gently leaves this world, there is no comparison. Patients and families who have chosen Palliative Care are calm, pensive, and prepared. Pain is managed and the element of fear is not present. Fear happens when situations are not controlled and there is an element of uncertainty. The last thing anyone wants is for their loved one to be fearful and for any family member to be afraid. The Palliative team is trained on alleviating fear.
Lastly I would like to say that being a nurse and having worked in healthcare for over 30 years I have never had a complaint related to Palliative Care. This treatment rewards us with some of our greatest satisfaction and compliments.