Principles of palliative care helps a daughter make a choice
I remember the fateful day we learned what was wrong with my father. It was around a festival day, and we had all gathered at my parents’ house for a hearty traditional feast. My father, 83 years old, was feeling very weak that day, but enjoyed our company.
By the next morning he could no more speak, and his right side was shivering. So we took him to a neurologist. After an MRI and CT scan, doctors confirmed that he had third-stage brain tumour. We were astonished: he had never complained of any headache or showed any symptoms.
The doctors said that his speech would be affected and that gradually the right side of his body would be paralysed. They said surgery would be the only option.
For them perhaps he was just another patient, but for me he was my dear daddy. I did not want to give him pain at this age. The doctors never guaranteed a recovery after surgery. One of the doctors was very humane and considerate. He asked for my opinion and agreed with me that a man who has lived a contented life for so long should be allowed to spend the remaining part of his life in peace. I was lucky to have found a doctor who held those views, rather than pressuring us to go ahead with what might have been a painful route to surgery and after.
But really, I might never have made this decision if it weren’t for Pallium India, an organisation involved in palliative care, and the training I had received there as a volunteer. I met the chairman of the organisation in 2008, at a cultural event it had organised. Before the programme started there was an introduction about palliative care. I was very impressed and decided to join in. Little did I know that the training I received there would turn out to be what I needed to help my father die at home peacefully and without pain or suffering.
Before becoming a volunteer I underwent training, which gave me a very good picture of palliative care and an insight into life itself. It gave me some knowledge about serious diseases, patient care and how to manage suffering. It opened my eyes to a new world of suffering and compassion. Direct exposure to suffering equipped me to face the realities of life. It gave me the strength to stand up to difficult situations.
Therefore, when I got the news of my dad’s illness I had an idea of what to expect. A workshop on “Dying with Dignity” helped me take a decision to give a peaceful farewell to my father. At that workshop, eminent personalities and doctors discussed about old age, geriatric treatments, and the futility of prolonging their lives through modern techniques and ventilators. They emphasised the need to give extra care and happiness to elderly patients at home rather than admitting them to hospital and leaving them at the mercy of hospital staff.
I knew this was in line with what my father believed. When I told him about his illness, he asked me to just ignore it. He naturally wished to be at home with his family till the end. He always preferred home remedies and was reluctant to go to hospital for any ailment. But still it was difficult to take this decision because some of my family members were not ready to face the reality. They could not agree that nothing better could be done. Since the nephrologists suggested that a surgery was risky, everybody finally agreed.
Thus, with the help of some medication he lived with us happily for about two more months. He enjoyed the care given to him and we had the satisfaction of serving him when it was needed. Though it was for a short spell he enjoyed living with his grand children. Slowly and calmly he went away.
Didn’t he deserve such a farewell at the age of 83? Should we have instead tried to prolong his life by painful and artificial means? These questions can be answered only when we are aware of the situations and learn to empathise with people around us. Mostly people are sympathetic towards their fellow-beings, but to empathise with their situation one has to inculcate it.