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The unsung hero of the palliative care story

 

“Preventable hospital admissions”, providing “healthcare in the home”, “integrated, co-ordinated care” delaying entry to aged care facilities, “ageing in place” –  these are the conversations we are having in Australian healthcare right now.  We talk of care for terminally ill patients and the aim for a “dignified death” at home, with good “quality of life”, a “healthy death”, a “good death”. The reality is certainly a lot harder than I could have ever imagined.

In our previous blog we paid tribute to the wonderful palliative care nurses, carers and primary healthcare ‘team’ who help facilitate end of life wishes and specifically to those who cared for our father recently. There is however another unsung hero in our palliative care story: The ‘Vital Living’ team (led by Richard) who supplied the equipment that enabled our father to stay at home as long as he could.

My sister (occupational therapist) Brooke says: “Equipment is an underestimated piece of the healthcare picture. I think about what dad’s last days would have been like without that equipment and he would have either been bed-bound or with a very poor quality of life. It gave him additional time at home that he wanted and would not have been possible without them providing that equipment.”

If you’re new to understanding what Occupational Therapists do – or like I was – new to palliative care, let me paint a picture. This is just some of the equipment our dad needed to help facilitate his end of life wishes to die at home:

  • Hospital bed (small rails at the start and then full length bed-rails when a fall became more likely)
  • Electric lift chairs (patient was 6ft 3 and carer 5ft 3)
  • Motion activated personal duress alarm
  • Bed cradle
  • Slide sheet
  • Shower stool
  • Hand shower
  • Pick up sticks
  • Sock and shoe horn
  • Transfer belt with handles
  • Walker
  • Transfer wheelchair
  • Power wheelchair
  • Seat over toilet
  • Commode
  • Urinal
  • Roho cushion
  • Hospital table

Add to this particular palliative care picture: Everyone in Port Macquarie has been battling bushfires, including staff of all healthcare services. Even the ambulance drivers were in crisis. We couldn’t get an ambulance. Everyone had more urgent needs.

If there is an award for going above and beyond, for exceptional service and care,
we would like it to go to Richard and his team from Vital Living in Port Macquarie.

Amongst raging bushfires the team from Vital Living went to great lengths to help provide equipment for palliative care. They organised emergency deliveries for us while defending their own properties from the fires. They devised creative approaches when equipment was not instantly available and they made continual home deliveries and installations, often at personal inconvenience and without charge.

Right up until the end our dad  understood exactly what was going on. He measured his own decline by his speed in completing cryptic crosswords.

“Towards the very end there came a time we could no longer lift him out of the chair. To me one of the biggest things was the rental of that electric lift chair which gave him 3 additional days of his life sitting in his favourite spot in the sun with his newspaper.”OT Brooke

Meanwhile Richard from Vital Living, with hose in hand defending his property, was on the phone making arrangements to have somebody else deliver equipment for us urgently.

OT Brooke’s comments:
“After 33 years as an occupational therapist, service is what I want but not what I have come to always expect.  Equipment providers like Vital Living are not usually clinicians or healthcare professionals and the nature of their business is essentially sales. However if they don’t do their job well they directly impact on patient care and with palliative care, they impact on quality of life for people who only have a short time left and who are often is extreme discomfort.

I understand that whoever you are taking care of is not the only person needing help. There are always plenty of people needing help and not enough resources. Vital Living responded within hours, in a bushfire and in Port Macquarie which is a town populated by elderly people with high needs. Richard’s team went above and beyond and Richard went so far above that day he was standing with a garden hose, defending his property while organising one of the team to source and deliver the next needed piece of equipment, that even his own team were impressed.

They are really an essential part of the healthcare team – even though they’re rarely factored in. Dad was continually amazed there was another step, another piece of equipment to help him continue and stay at home. He was very grateful. Every time you enabled him to keep doing something, that was significant.” OT Brooke

Personally, I am in awe of all the healthcare providers. I’ve always been in awe of OTs! Now I call palliative care nurses “angels”.
OT Brooke calls equipment suppliers “Angels with feet”.
This thank you is from both of us.

Support is everything!

I am very aware I’ve been talking a lot about some very sad topics and so many people are going through very tough times at the moment.
What I am hoping our 3 part palliative care gratitude blog highlights is there are many, many wonderful people out there.
If you are struggling please reach out. There are always people who care.
We care.

 

To everyone reading this, to all the people we’ve met during the year who touched our lives, to all our incredible clients – THANK YOU!
We wish you all many, many sparkle moments of joy over Christmas and New Year.

With best wishes from Katrina Otto, daughter and Managing Director, Train IT Medical
Brooke Colburn, daughter and Train IT Medical Allied Health Clinical Advisor  & Senior Occupational Therapist, Integrated Therapy, Georgia, USA.

 

 

 

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