Friday, April 4, 2014

Dad’s death brought home the truth about palliative care.

The following article was written by Susan Martinuk and published in the Calgary Herald on April 3. 

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC) asks its supporters to contact their Member of Parliament to support Motion 456. Link to the Member of Parliament contact information.

Susan Martinuk
By Susan Martinuk

This past week, the House of Commons spent one hour debating a motion that calls for the federal government to work with the provinces to establish a national palliative care and end-of-life strategy.

An entire hour. That’s rather disappointing given the hours dedicated to silly, unconstructive debate over internal government matters such as hirings and firings.

It appears that much of the government comment during the debate was an attempt to disconnect itself from any obligations in developing such a strategy. Fair enough, perhaps, since the feds have already prepared an in-depth parliamentary report (2011) and a major Senate report (2005). There have also been progress reports, fact sheets and $43 million dedicated to palliative care research.

We don’t need more reports or strategies — we just need action.

Taking the federal government out of the equation leaves the provinces to devise palliative care strategies that best suit their individual health networks, facilities and geography. But it can also be problematic. With no federal incentives for change, the only way to force provincial governments to create palliative care strategies is for people to actively call for their development.

The people who have had to deal with a system that provides little assistance to families of the gravely ill have to speak out for all the families who will soon be in that situation.

I’ve just spent an extended period of time with my father, watching him waste away from cancer.

Last June, my siblings and I determined that he could no longer function on his own and I temporarily moved home to be with him. Based on his condition, we thought it would only be two or three weeks; a month at most. But once I was home, living with him in the empty house where my mom had recently passed away, his health and mental well-being improved. As a result, my two or three weeks became a nine-month journey that ended on Feb. 16.

During that time, we had no access to palliative care or a hospice. In the last weeks of his life, we dealt with a doctor who had recently come to Canada from England. He didn’t touch, examine or even look at my dad. Instead, he spent 10 minutes telling my sister and me about the fabulous palliative care facilities that exist in Britain and his shock at not having such care here. Perhaps he missed the irony that his comments about the lack of available care came as he forgot to look at, acknowledge or care for my father and his palliative condition.

I can’t even begin to discuss the doctor who thought that palliative care meant no care.

When Dad’s care level increased, we hired two private nurses. Even then, his fierce independence refused to surrender. He could barely walk or stand on his own, yet he would often thank the nurses for their care, then tell them in the kindest way possible that he really didn’t need their assistance and “we probably won’t need you to come in tomorrow.” I still smile as I think of it.

We are fortunate in that we had the means to hire privately. We are also fortunate that, as a self-employed consultant, I had the freedom to move home for an extended period of time.

But the cost was high — both financially and emotionally. (The exhaustion comes later, and I’ve only written one column in the past six weeks because I am simply too tired.)

An acute care bed costs taxpayers $985 per day, minimum. It would probably cost one-third of that (maybe even less) for the government to pay for one caregiver or nurse to spend a day in the home of those who are dying.

Think about it. Maybe we don’t need a national strategy to solve this health-care problem. Maybe we just need doctors, nurses and governments to act with common sense and a bit of compassion.

Susan Martinuk is a columnist based in Western Canada.

Links to similar articles:


Don Coburn said...

My mother died last March. It was similar to Susan's experience. There was no bed available when she needed one in the last week's, until the hospital the last week. She was in great pain at home as lower level pain killers could be given at home without medical supervision. And that could not come the week that she needed it, as her condition had to be assessed -tentatively in a montb. Too little too late. She didn't make the month to get assessed. The system needs fixing.

Alex Schadenberg said...

I agree Don. The system needs fixing. These situations should not happen.