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We need to pay attention to palliative care

By Abigail Cukier, Senior Editor

I have written many stories about the Dr. Bob Kemp Centre for Hospice Palliative Care. I was always amazed when staff and clients talked about how much laughter and joy there were between those walls.  They always talked about “living until you die.”

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe them. It was just that I couldn’t quite understand how – in the face of death – life goes on.

In January 2010, I found out.

My dad was diagnosed with a serious illness in 2008 and in January 2010, we were told he had six months to live.

A palliative care doctor and a nurse started visiting my dad at home. An occupational therapist brought him a walker and put lifts on his favourite chair, which we brought up to his room. My dad pretty much never left his room after that.

Although it was a terrible situation, there was so much laughter in that room. We watched movies and copious amounts of the Price is Right. My family had been known for celebrating every occasion. Now, these celebrations were held in my parents’ bedroom.

On June 5, 2010, my dad was admitted to hospital and the palliative doctor recommended he stay in the palliative care wing.

Initially, my dad wanted to go home but he realized this was the best option. The hospital was less than 10 minutes from my parents’ home. My mother had cared for him for months – making every meal to special dietary restrictions, driving him to countless appointments. This was a chance for her to just be his wife and savor every moment they had left.

My father was there for 10 weeks and his family members and friends spent hours in his room reminiscing and laughing. We celebrated Father’s Day there, complete with cake and singing grandchildren.

Other times, we each visited alone. My dad and I told each other all of the thiangs we needed to say. Sometimes we just sat, quietly holding hands.

Although a palliative wing of a hospital is different than a hospice, I treasured many of the same things that family members of hospice clients do.

We could bring my dad anything he wanted to eat at any time. He loved that. His private room had a sleeper chair and comfortable seating and there was a sitting room down the hall to gather with visitors or have a quiet moment. We were allowed to visit around the clock and in fact, some of my favourite visits were when we went to check on my dad late at night. We would try not to wake him, but invariably, he would spring up in bed ready for conversation.

And the nurses were amazing. They treated my dad with such compassion, kindness and humour. My dad loved joking with them and making them laugh. They treated every one of us the same way and were there to answer every question and to comfort us.

While that was the most difficult time of my life, I have a special spot in my heart for those people and that place.

This experience made me realize the importance of proper end of life care – at home or in a hospice.

I think most people want to support causes geared toward curing disease, assuming this is a way to make the most difference. Once people are dying – what can you do?

But when you have been through the death of a loved one, you see how important it is to pay attention to this part of life. It is important to ensure people who are dying – and we all will – are able to do it as comfortably and joyfully as possible.

Society needs to stop ignoring death and help ensure places like the Bob Kemp hospice exist for all who need them.

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