What is Palliative Care?
Palliative care is often associated with end of life care. Palliative care is an inter-disciplinary approach to providing treatment to a person who is experiencing a variety of symptoms that can be quite distressing. Marie Curie informs the reader ‘Palliative care is treatment, care and support for people with a life-limiting illness, and their family and friends. It’s sometimes called ‘supportive care’. They continue to explain ‘The aim of palliative care is to help you to have a good quality of life – this includes being as well and active as possible in the time you have left.’ Care and treatment includes the following; pain management, social care support with matters such as personal care, emotional, spiritual and psycho-social support. The aim is to enable and empower the ill person to live life as they wish whilst maintaining their personal dignity. Oxford dictionaries (online) provide the following understanding of the word palliative ‘to cloak’ the word is derived from the French “palliative” and the Latin ‘palliativus’.
During the 1960’s, the modern hospice movement was developed with the aim of improving the quality of care patients who were at the end of life received and so that the quality of their death was comfortable, relaxing and in an environment that exuded warmth and dignity. Specially trained and educated care personnel ensure that the spiritual, religious and emotional needs of the person in their care are equally met to those of the physical and mental needs. There is an openness to the incorporation and inclusion of holistic and alternative therapy in this arena and patients do feel benefits to the incorporation of Aromatherapy.
The western medical model of care is the foundation, upon which all patients receive treatment and care. This approach provided in hospitals and nursing homes is often mechanistic and the clinical setting quite sterile and soulless. Patients receiving treatment based upon the investigative tests and lab results which can clarify and confirm the patient’s status and aid the decision making of the treating clinician. Most often treatment is for the physical aspects of the person with conventional drugs. The medical staffs’ priority is to cure the patient and then send them home as medically fit. I digress a little and share briefly a personal and recent experience of medical care with the inclusion of holistic and aromatherapy…
My own personal experience of recent surgery was one in which my emotional and mental health override my physical well being; it was the physical disabling injuries of a medical device that had denied me of restful sleep, mobility and all the other things that make life wonderful had taken its toll. I felt really lucky that the anaesthetist and his assistant who didn’t really know what to do when I began to cry and shake stopped a moment and just stood next to the theatre trolley and placed her hand on my shoulder. Soon I was coming round and the anaesthetist had been true to his promise that he would keep me comfortable and placed a warming blanket over me with the aid of the care staff; it was a small gesture but it meant a lot. Medical teams are often extremely busy with demanding workloads and this caring manner was deeply appreciated. To me it said my needs were important and I was valued. I share this part of that experience with you because people with palliative needs, their family and friends all feel. A moment to say ‘how you are’ and to listen is so important; this is a process that begins with ourselves as we begin to pay attention to our inner being.
With palliative care the aim is to improve quality of life; although my own state was not palliative there was a tipping point into which it could have become such and now my quality of life is incredible and there are moments when I succumb to a relapse but I rest and that is ok. Now in my experience of medical care was not what I expected, in the past I had been dismissed and subjected to an amount of ridicule and scorn. Here this experience had a sense of warmth, compassion and kindness, it was very welcome. During this time I used aromatic essential oils in a balm applied to my abdomen which was very bruised and extremely sore, I applied a little to my legs as my skin dried and flaked and used homoeopathy to help ease nausea, ease my bowel and pain. I had a blend of flower remedies to ease my emotions as I was very tearful. Being my own therapist was a real empowering feeling but the medical team were worried as I may have a bad reaction! This was because I reacted badly to the pain and nausea medicines – very sensitive to morphine and even more sensitive to the anti-emetics and so I was glad to have my go to remedies.
My own personal balm was a blessing; Hypericum and Calendula, lavender, chamomile and vitamin E... blessed wound healing.
At home I continued my use of aromatic balms, homoeopathic and flower remedies along with the herbal tinctures to support my liver as my body cleared the anaesthetics and other medications. At one point my abdominal wound began to open and suppurate. I felt anxious because as a nurse I had seen wounds do this. The old wives remedy of warm salt water came in a treat which was followed by Lavandula angustifolia undiluted around the area. The wound healed very quickly however abdominal wounds can take many years to heal fully.
I end this lesson on my own experience of medical treatment that offered something more than the medical and mechanistic approach to treatment, there was some heart and soul in the care I received in the form of warmth and compassion. Indeed one nurse noted how tearful I was and had listened intently to my decade of pain and the look in her eyes said she cared. I had not been rejected, dismissed or ridiculed – I had been valued as a person and been shown dignity as a human. My use of holistic therapy, though the team was worried and anxious, was not denied me and I benefited greatly. I have heard from others of how they have used holistic and alternative treatments to support their own recovery from similar surgery.
In the next post we look at the question 'Why use Aromatherapy in palliative care?'