Nygemol Kaniyodical George, a 17-year-old pupil at St David’s Catholic College, Cardiff, South Wales, UK, explains how a volunteer placement in her local hospice changed her mind about palliative care.
Wishing to pursue medicine as a future career, I decided to volunteer at a Marie Curie Cancer Care hospice in South Wales and talk to and observe the nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, aromatherapists and others working there. I didn’t really know what to expect, and was a bit apprehensive before stepping through the doors of the hospice. But what I experienced changed my previously held thoughts and convictions. Here, I witnessed for the first time the crucial role of palliative care teams, providing help for patients with life-limiting illnesses.
Before I set out to discover more about palliative care, I and my peers sometimes envisaged a hospice as a frightening, miserable place where people go to die in some distress, or perhaps in a coma, due to high doses of alleviating medication, or due to their advanced cancer. Hospices, in our minds, seemed like places for the very final days of life. But what I discovered was a community centre approach, where patients came in and then went back home after any problems had been sorted out. Many patients were younger than I thought, lots were walking about and there was laughter and a lot of humour. I was not previously aware that hospices provide day centres for people who are well enough to live at home and can just ‘pop in’ for a chat, take a yoga lesson, attend a quiz or see the palliative nurse if they have pain. Some people had actually received palliative care input on and off for several years, either in the community or in the day care or inpatient unit. Marie Curie Cancer Care is just one charity trying to provide a point of contact for all sorts of palliative care needs in the community, something that is summed up in this blog by Murray Easton, a hospice fundraising manager in Glasgow.1 He emphasises that hospices aren’t just “a place that you go and ‘never get out of’ .”
It seemed to me like a journey where people cross over a bridge all by themselves. Perhaps palliative care’s role is to provide companionship and guidance on how it can feel less lonely and isolating. This comforted me, and I think that patients and families relished this too. Offering this comfort, easing symptoms like pain and talking through the big questions help to make this transition a bit easier. Patients want to enjoy having their dignity and quality of life. They want to maintain relationships, often want to prepare for the future and, importantly, there is that basic human need for choice and feeling in control. No wonder that surveys show high satisfaction in relation to palliative care. 2
My volunteer experience showed me that palliative care is not ‘just’ about dying, but it’s really about living, perhaps with the knowledge that time may be short, and hospice is a place to go for guidance for patients who want to live out their lives as fully as possible. And I learnt from a palliative care consultant I spoke to that it can be “an opportunity for people to look way beyond curative treatment at other big areas that matter in life.”
1. Easton M, What role does the hospice play in the local community? Marie Curie Cancer Care Blog (accessed 16.04.2014).
2. Parker SM, Remington R, Nannini A, Cifuentes M. Patients’ outcomes and satisfaction with care following palliative care consultations. Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing. 2013; 15 (4).
As someone planning a career in medicine, I found these websites useful:
- Royal College of Physicians website – Specialty Description for Palliative Care (accessed 16.04.2014).
- Taubert M, Palliative care – a “depressing” specialty? BMJ blog (accessed 16.04.2014).
There are several other blog posts about volunteering in palliative care on the EAPC blog – please click here to view them.