Palliative Care: A Life-Altering Treatment
My grandfather, just one year ago, passed away. He was a very proud and dignified man, who raised ten kids and saw them successfully settled into their own lives. He was perfectly fine and healthy until one visit to the doctor, when a little pain in his chest revealed that he had stage four lung cancer.
He went through the chemotherapy, the treatments, the injections, and the pain. This once dignified man who had held his head up high now could not eat or sleep because of pain. He had two final wishes: to die comfortably and to die in his own bed at home. He passed away on a hospital bed convulsing in pain. Let’s look at a similar story, but with a much different ending. Deborah, a 36 year old mother, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010.
Her oncologists solely focused on controlling the cancer and administering chemotherapy. She, on the other hand, had so much pain that that she could not eat or sleep, and spent all of her day in bed. Her internist referred her to a palliative care team, and within two days of treatment, she was eating, sleeping, and leading a normal life. She had the strength to continue her treatment, and “wonders how she would have gotten through her illness without [the palliative care team]” (Get Palliative Care, p.1).
So what is this miracle that cured Deborah’s pain? It is called palliative care. Palliative care is specialized medicinal care for people with serious illnesses, and focuses on giving seriously ill patients relief from any symptoms or pain that result from the illness or the treatment of the illness. What my grandfather should have received is a section of palliative care called hospice care, which focuses on relieving the pain of terminally ill patients. Basically, a set of doctors are assigned to a patient to administer appropriate medicine or therapy that rids the patient of pain in order to allow him/her to lead a relatively normal life. In short, palliative care improves a patient’s quality of life. People may ask, why is it important? Isn’t a doctor supposed to do that anyway? Technically, no.
As shown by my grandfather’s and Deborah’s stories, oncologists simply focus on curing the illness in the body, not the pain that comes from the cure. The oncologists hope that the pain of the illness will go away once the illness goes away, but have no guarantee that it will. And most of the time, it won’t. Palliative care may now seem like an obvious treatment for anyone who now has a serious illness, but unfortunately, most people are unaware of this service. Surprisingly, some doctors don’t know what it is! A recent poll conducted by the Center to Advance Palliative Care showed that 70% of the population has no idea about what palliative care is (2011, p.
1). And if a patient doesn’t know what palliative care is, how could he/she ask to receive it? Just the mere thought that so many patients in pain are not receiving the relief and care they deserve, due to lack of knowledge, is devastating. To make it worse, as stated by Dr. Rebecca Aslakson, an expert in the field of palliative care at John Hopkins, those who have some idea of what it is often confuse it with being just hospice care (Aslakson 1). Because some doctors confuse palliative care with hospice care, they are afraid that giving a patient whose death is not certain palliative care will mean that he/she failed as a doctor because the death of the patient is certain. What kind of doctor would want that? And because of this misconception, some patients are not receiving vital palliative care.
Maybe if I would have done my research earlier, I might have been able to ask my grandfather’s doctors in India about palliative care. I don’t know. Maybe there is not a single palliative care doctor in India. I don’t know. But what I do know is that in the United States, stories like that of Deborah circling around the medical community prove that palliative care does in fact have a significant impact on an ill patient’s life.
Knowledge about the topic and misconceptions about palliative care are solvable issues that are hindering the growth of palliative care and the dignity and relief of seriously ill patients is in fact an important reason to resolve these issues. How could anyone try to live a normal life with constant pain? Citations: Center to Advance Palliative Care. “Stories.” Get Palliative Care. Center to Advance Palliative Care, Sept. 2102.
Web. 9 June 2013. Aslakson, Rebecca. Telephone interview. 15 Nov.