May 27, 2020

Palliative Care: It’s more than you think

The theme for Palliative Care Week 2020 is “Palliative Care… It’s more than you think”.

Palliative care can help people with life-limiting illnesses to live as well as possible, for as long as possible – supporting their physical, emotional, spiritual and social needs.

Alwyn Kennedy, currently a patient at our Palliative Care Unit (PCU) located at Heritage Epping Gardens, is a case in point.

Alwyn came to the PCU after an increasingly difficult time at home and has been with us for just over a week. He was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease over six months ago and says he was pleasantly surprised by the care he received.

Says Alwyn, “I always thought that people only went to Palliative care when they have nowhere else to go.”

However, when Alwyn came to Epping Gardens, it was explained to him that Palliative care is not just about end of life care. Alwyn says, “You can receive help, care, attention and advice on how to keep going as long as you can, in a better state.”

He values the advice he has been given, ranging from strategies on how to manage his breathing, painful pressure points, how to keep his throat clear and even advice on how to position himself in his bed.

He says, “Here, they really care about patients and they want you to feel comfortable and ask questions and spend their time with you – they are in no rush!”

Alwyn sharing a joke with Amelia Hayes and Sonia Santone

He says the nursing staff have been fantastic. “I got on well with them, and the ones I joke with – they know who they are!!”

He adds, “From a medical point of view, I think they are all excellent!” said Alwyn.

The Palliative care team at Epping Gardens celebrating National Palliative Care Week

Barbara Watson, a Registered Nurse in the Palliative Care Unit, says, “Despite not consciously being driven to work in this particular area of nursing, I have found myself working with a group of colleagues who have dedicated many years of their professional life in palliative care.”

“Our Palliative Care Unit is quite unique in my opinion. After two years, it’s very clear that despite all the emotions one feels in this specialty, it’s the very supportive team that allows nurses to shine.”

Barbara Watson, Registered Nurse at Palliative Care Epping Gardens

She recalls recently entering a patient’s room to find a music therapist singing – which she describes as ‘exquisite!’ She says she went back to the nurses station with tears in her eyes, where her colleagues were there to comfort her.

Says Barbara, “Although the clinical tasks of this unit are of primary importance, such as pain management, equally, it is meeting their other emotional needs by being creative.”

Alison Giles, Medical Director of Palliative Care, says, “We provide care to any patients suffering from life limiting illnesses, and also offer support to their families.”

“The Palliative Care Consult Team sees patients whilst in the hospital or in clinic, and our colleagues in the community teams such as Melbourne City Mission and Banksia Community Palliative Care will support patients at home.”

The Palliative Care Consult Team

Although they are not currently able to volunteer due to COVID-19, our Volunteers are also an integral part of the unit and are required to undergo specialised palliative care training under the guidelines of Palliative Care Victoria.

Monica Polimeni, Engagement Advisor, says, ” Volunteers have walked the journey with many palliative care patients over the years, offering a smiling face, a gentle conversation, a listening ear at the times when telling family of the feelings and fears may be too difficult…or even sitting in silence at the bedside to have someone present.”

The Palliative Care Consult Team at Northern Health sees over 1,000 patients every year across Northern Hospital, Bundoora Centre and Broadmeadows Hospital. Our PCU has about 350 admissions every year, with approximately 900 patients cared for at the end of their life at Northern Health last year.