Preparing patients for final journey has its rewards

Port Kembla Hospital palliative care unit nurse Rebecca Perry finds caring for people at the end of their life very rewarding, rather than gloomy. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Port Kembla Hospital palliative care unit nurse Rebecca Perry finds caring for people at the end of their life very rewarding, rather than gloomy. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Caring for the dying is not always an easy task but it's not all doom and gloom either, according to palliative care nurse Rebecca Perry.

At Port Kembla Hospital's palliative care unit, where she is acting nurse unit manager, laughter is not uncommon, with staff and visitors keen to keep spirits high.

Volunteers bake cupcakes daily and there's even a "jolly trolley" for those keen to enjoy an afternoon tipple in the privacy of their room or on the peaceful garden terrace.

"A lot of people ask how we handle dealing with death all the time, but we see it as a journey - and we are here to assist people on that journey," Ms Perry said.

"We aim to provide a nice, calm environment for patients and we have a multi-disciplinary team who cater for patients' physical, emotional and social needs.

"Our staff are incredibly passionate, and compassionate, people but there's still laughs on the ward - it's not all doom and gloom."

Ms Perry said it could be tough for staff when a young person with a life-limiting illness came in; when a patient or their family found it hard to accept their illness was terminal; or when it became personal.

"My partner's mother who had cancer was here in palliative care, and died a couple of weeks ago," she said. "It was hard, but the team here were fantastic and the family was very well supported."

Supporting family and friends through illness and into bereavement is part of the job for palliative care staff, whose role is being celebrated during national Palliative Care Week.

As part of the week, Australians are being encouraged to have a conversation with their loved ones about their end-of-life wishes.

Recent research commissioned by Palliative Care Australia revealed that just 5 per cent of the 1003 people who took part in the April 2014 survey had an advance care plan in place.

Less than half of those surveyed had spoken with their partners about their end-of-life wishes.

At Port Kembla's palliative care unit, Ms Perry said a range of information was available for patients and families to ensure their wishes were carried out.

"We also have social workers to help with end-of-life planning," she said.

"Many people don't discuss their wishes but it's important for people to get their affairs in order for their own sake and for their families."

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