Palliative Patient Experience ReflectionIlsa Hale, BA, M3 Nov 30, 2021
My palliative rotation has instilled in me many lessons, insights, and skills. I witnessed really challenging conversations with patients and practiced how to talk about death and dying in an artful manner. A particularly informative lesson was that in the complexity of grief, and a healthcare team’s role in the processing of that grief – this lesson was offered by a patient and family.
“John Doe” was a man, a beloved member of his family. He had COVID and was receiving maximum intensive medical intervention. The family frequently questioned the team’s medical decisions, good intentions, and education. We were accused of doing the very opposite of what we all work for – to honor patients and ease suffering.
At first during these interactions, I was shocked. The family’s words unsettled me, and I could feel myself getting so angry, hurt, offended, and dejected. After a meeting, the NP on our team turned to me and said with a slight smile, “Grief can be so complex, can’t it?” It wasn’t until that moment that I realized what the rest of my team understood from very early on, this was how the family was working through the news of their loved one.
I felt so silly for being sucked into the drama and misdirected anger of the situation. The family needed to question and ask why? and how? They needed to lash out at something, and they needed to fight. By lashing out at our team, they were able to stay united as a family and support each other as they limped through the dark landscape of death and dying. Our job goes so much beyond the cut and dry skills of medicine; that family did not need a medication recommendation, a PCA titration, nor even a communication link. They needed someone to help them as they shouldered the heavy, heavy burden of grief and sadness that is loss. This taught me the practice of rising above the turmoil of a situation while always being grounded back to the larger picture and showed me that care can mean the willing sacrifice of sitting in the grief of others so as to help shepherd them through the darkness.