Ms Asha was a staff nurse in our hospital. Always cheerful with a smile, she was a sincere, dedicated and a compassionate person. Her interaction with patients, residents or faculty was exemplary. In my hospital rounds, one day, I found her a little down. I stopped and asked her the reason. Her answer shook me. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed to undergo surgery and chemotherapy. I did my best to console her. Her hands were shaking and I could do nothing but hold her hand as tears rolled down her cheeks. I could see the fear in her eyes. The idea of death or more so, nearing death is something everyone dreads to think or talk about. I had no words.
Three months later, I saw her in the ward, again smiling, but she looked weak and had lost all her hair. Her spirit was undying. She was the same Asha as before, giving hope to many and helping the sick. I looked at her in amazement even as she proclaimed, she was now doing fine. However, it was not a happy ending to a story. Three months later, she went through another difficult cycle of pain, suffering and chemotherapy until one fine day, death came calling and ended all her suffering. I am still unsure whether it was cancer, the fear or the side effects of chemotherapy that killed her. It must have been truly a traumatizing experience. Maybe, Palliative care would have made a difference to her suffering and enhance the quality of her life.
If we look at some statistics, India is, unfortunately, the highest contributor to cancer-related deaths, with 2.2 million per year as of 2017. Also, 70% of patients consult doctors when cancer has reached the terminal stages. These are only the statistics of cancer, not taking into consideration other terminal illnesses.
Palliative care, as defined by WHO, is an approach that improves the quality of life of the patients and their families facing the problems of a life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.
Generally speaking, Palliative care is especially for patients with terminal illnesses, where there is no hope for a cure, however, the side-effects of the disease or a treatment can be alleviated.
Palliative care is important to cope with the physical pain, suffering and the constant thought of nearing death. Palliative care specialists provide psychosocial and spiritual support to the patient, along with physical care, to help them be peaceful for the limited time they have left to spend. It also provides bereavement support to the family of the patient to cope with grief and offer all the support needed for the family to make the right medical decisions.
When death is nearing, all that is necessary for the patient, as well as the family members is to find comfort in times that are tough to cope. Palliative care enables the patient to have an improved quality of life at the end-of-life period, physically and mentally, among their loved ones and help ease the distress the patients and their near and dear ones face.
We all have one life and it is worthwhile to make it beautiful. But in case you are destined to go through difficult times in life, Palliative care may bring relief through the course of existence.