When we hear the term “palliative care”, most people picture a patient nearing the last months or weeks of life with no options left but pain management.
While it is certainly true that end- of- life and hospice care providers utilize palliative care, it is now a medical specialty in its own right and is used in the management of conditions throughout the lifespan.
The word palliative comes from the Middle Latin word “palliates”, meaning cloaked or covered. Today it refers to interventions across many disciplines that aim to alleviate, or “cloak”, the suffering that illness and chronic diseases can bring.
These examples highlight the variety of ways palliative care can be used to lessen suffering:
*a 7-year old leukemia patient experiences severe nausea after every chemotherapy treatment. A palliative care team makes sure that the nausea is brought under control, improving her quality of life during treatment and enabling her to enjoy meals with her family.
*A 52-year old woman faces a mastectomy for breast cancer. The palliative care team arranges for a chaplain to sit with her prior to surgery and a social worker to help her locate prosthesis providers. In addition, they arrange for a supportive post-surgery visit from a breast cancer survivor.
*a 78-year old man develops searing nerve pain with shingles. A palliative care team offers pain medications, anesthetic spray, and anxiety medication to help him manage severe flare-ups. He is given the number of an on-call nurse on the palliative care team to call if his symptoms become unmanageable.
As you can see, palliative care can involve physicians, physical and occupational therapists, chaplains, counselors, social workers, patient educators, and community volunteers. Their unique role is to reduce suffering and enhance well-being, working in collaboration with those who work toward treatment and cure.
Cascade Companion Care caregivers are trained to be observant of the same indicators of distress and suffering that are monitored by palliative care providers. What is a client’s current level of pain? Has his activity level changed? Is she nauseated by a medication or treatment? Is the client showing signs of depression or anxiety? Have sleep patterns changed? Is his appetite waning? Does she experience shortness of breath? Is there a change if his overall sense of well-being? These are the kinds of symptoms that would be noted in the client’s documentation log and reported. Family members are encouraged to note these symptoms in the log as well, so that all members of the care team can work together to alleviate unnecessary suffering.
As a patient’s prognosis worsens, attempts to treat and cure may ultimately subside, with palliative care taking the lead in the patient’s care. At this stage of life, palliative care offers the opportunity to use one’s energies to do the psychological, emotional, and spiritual work involved in the dying process rather than to be drained by unremitting pain.
Whether you are going in for surgery, having a tooth pulled, or facing a life altering diagnosis, ask your doctor to include palliative care in the total treatment plan. Comfort during treatment is now understood as a necessary corollary to good medical care.