Palliative care essential at end of life

By Monica Brechka

Jimmy was a loving husband, father, and gido — 46 years of marriage was not long enough!

Last November a CT scan showed a tumour on the tail of the pancreas; December was the biopsy and in January we learned that it was not operable. Chemotherapy might lengthen life, but at what cost? In February, after much prayer and discussion, we both agreed that quality of life was one of the most important factors and Jimmy chose “comfort care,” or palliative care.

Jimmy was prayer-filled. He loved God, life and people. He was looking forward to meeting Jesus. However, being human, there were times when he questioned the length of time it was taking to meet him. His motto was, “One day at a time, dear Lord” — just like the song.

As long as he could, Jimmy attended morning mass, then he watched it on Vision TV and I brought him communion. He also watched and participated in the rosary with Mother Angelica. In the evening, until the end, I prayed the rosary for us as we held hands. He knew that God was always with him.

Jimmy suffered, not with physical pain or nausea, but with the process of leaving — being able to do less and less, being sad that he was leaving us and having no control over the situation.

The Palliative Care Team came to the house — a doctor, nurse, pharmacist and social worker. At first, nurses came three weekdays and later daily, including weekends. Pain medication was monitored and always adjusted, first with pills, then needles, which I was shown how to administer. Any cancer-related medication was provided free of charge, thankfully, because those were expensive.

We received a copy of Preparing for Approaching Death. A Notice of Anticipated Death at Home was signed by one of the doctors; a copy went to the coroner so his office need not be contacted; the call would go directly to the funeral home.

As Jimmy was very sensitive to smells, general visiting was not encouraged. Family visits were appreciated. Maryanne, Jimmy’s sister and an RN, stayed with him if I had to go out. Our daughter Kim, who lives out of town, spent one night a week so I could get a full night’s sleep. Brother-in-law Peter cooked meals, which I slightly warmed in the microwave to minimize odours. Our friends in the CWL prayed fervently, had masses said and sent me supportive and humorous emails to keep my spirits up.

The program accommodated Jimmy’s changing needs such as a hospital bed, over-bed table, a gel pad and sliders for his bed. I was shown how to use a powered lift and slings.

By choice, I provided Jimmy’s hands-on care. The bed was set up in the living room. By the end of March, I was sleeping on the couch near him. While respite care was arranged, we used the afternoon person only twice, but not the overnight person as Jimmy wanted me near him.

On Passion Sunday he quit drinking. On Holy Thursday, his eyes were closed and he was not able to respond. On Good Friday, April 18, at 9:50 in the morning, Jimmy left to meet his friend Jesus. Nurse Anne, who was visiting, said that his breathing pattern had changed. I bent down to look at his face and just then he gave a tremendous sigh. He got his last wish — that I not be alone with him when he died.

Anne noticed his lovely crucifix, a gift from his sister Betty, and said, “It looks like you are a Christian family — would you like to pray?” I said, yes, please — so she led us in the Lord’s Prayer.

Jimmy’s family came to the house. We sat around his bed, talked, prayed the rosary, drank coffee, told stories and laughed. Around 3:00 we called the funeral home. Son-in-law Denis and Maryanne supervised Jimmy’s departure from the house that he loved so much.

I saw the Lord in my husband, family, visitors, professional caregivers and the two priests who ministered to us. For us, Comfort Care was a positive experience. Our privacy was respected and we were able to love each other until death did us part.

Brechka writes from Winnipeg.

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