Palliative care challenging, but rewarding

The Smiths are a typical Canadian family—average income, modest home in a quiet neighbourhood.
Several months ago, Mrs. Smith’s mother, Mrs. Jones, came to live with them. Mrs. Jones is dying. After many tests, treatments, and hospital stays, her doctors have told the family that a cure of her disease is no longer a reasonable goal.
Instead, Mrs. Jones and her family have decided they will concentrate on keeping her as physically and emotionally comfortable as possible for her remaining time.
This is palliative care—active, compassionate support for individuals and families coping with life-threatening illness. Care providers work together as a team along with the person and the family to address their physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and practical needs.
This support extends to the bereavement period.
Though palliative care can occur in whatever setting the dying person chooses, the Smiths’ have chosen to care for Mrs. Jones in their home. The CCAC case manager assesses Mrs. J. and organizes her care.
As a result, a visiting nurse changes dressings, monitors her condition, and answers the family’s questions and concerns, the physician orders measures to relieve pain and other symptoms, and a home-maker helps with bathing.
Her minister comes by regularly, and a service club has provided necessary equipment.
A palliative care volunteer also has been requested and visits regularly during this difficult time. The volunteer spends two or three hours a week with Mrs. Jones and is basically a friend to her and her family.
She plays checkers with her, brings her books from the library, plays her favourite music, and, most importantly, listens as she reminisces about her past, talks about her experience right now, and expresses her worries and fears.
Often when the volunteer is visiting, Mrs. Smith will take a much-needed nap—knowing someone else is there to watch over her mother. Sometimes the family will use the time to run errands or go for coffee, and sometimes the volunteer will make a pot of tea and they will all sit together.
They laugh together and they cry together, and the family knows that during Mrs. Jones’ last days, the volunteer will be there with them if they wish—whether those last days are at home or in hospital.
She also will continue to support the family after Mrs. Jones dies.
Being a palliative care volunteer is highly-challenging. It also is very rewarding. It requires compassion, sensitivity, excellent listening skills, and a sincere desire to ease suffering.
Volunteers routinely report that they feel they receive far more than they give, and consider it a privilege to share in their clients’ final journeys. They can make a real difference in the lives of the dying and their families, and make a genuine contribution to their communities.
The Rainy River District Palliative Care Volunteer Program has been providing this service across the district for nearly seven years. About 25 volunteers are available in the Fort Frances-Emo-Nestor Falls-Rainy River area to support individuals and families coping with chronic or life-threatening illness in their homes, in extended care facilities, or the hospital.
At this time, more volunteers are needed. If you think being a palliative care volunteer would be right for you, call Wilma Sletmoen, regional co-ordinator, at 274-9983 before Feb. 28 for more information and an application.
Applicants must be willing to be interviewed and undergo a criminal records check. Selected applicants will take part in a 30-hour training program to be held this spring.
If you or someone you know could benefit from the services of a volunteer, call Mary Martinson in Fort Frances (274-7630), Janet Loney in Emo (482-2585), or Carolee Hogue in Rainy River (852-3392).