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Make the most of your final days on earth

Dying is a natural part of life, although it is often an exceptionally difficult time for the individual and their family. With the support of an experienced team, end of life care can help the person and their loved ones make the most of the final weeks together.

“Palliative care is about improving quality of life and removing as much pain and distress from the dying process as we can for the patient and their family,” says Dr Lashistha Parthab, a doctor with a special interest in the field of oncology and palliative medicine who practises at Netcare Parklands Hospital.

“This involves treating the sometimes distressing physical and psychological symptoms a person may experience when diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, as well as supporting their emotional, social and spiritual needs, especially towards the end of life when around the clock care, including pain management, may be needed,” she says.

Many people hope to be able to care for their loved ones at home in their final days, but this can be an overwhelming responsibility at a time that is also emotionally very painful and exhausting for the family. In reality, few households have experience in caring for a person in the terminal stage of their illness or access to the resources this often requires.

A peaceful and dignified passing

“My husband knew his time was limited. He had declined further cancer treatment and just wanted to live comfortably in his last days,” says Judy* whose husband passed away at Netcare Parklands Hospital’s palliative care unit last year.

“He had two requests when he was nearing the end: one was to be free from pain, and the other was to die at home. At this stage, he was on so many different combinations of drugs to manage the pain, yet it was still not working,” she recalls.

“One particular evening, the pain became so unbearable that he begged me to take him to the hospital. I felt completely helpless and called the ambulance immediately to take us to the hospital. The welcome that we received at the hospital, and the kindness and reassurance, were comforting. The doctors, nurses and support staff all worked together to make sure that my husband was comfortable, content and almost pain free.

“The staff communicated with us every step of the way and we got to spend his last six days together with him as a family – no stress, no frustration, no panic – just us together, until he passed peacefully with all of us by his side. I will always be grateful to the team for affording my husband a peaceful and dignified passing.”

A sacred time

Dr Parthab leads a team of professionals who provide life affirming 24 hour care with expert pain and symptom control in comforting, serene surroundings. Each patient is supported by a nurse navigator who helps ensure their holistic needs are taken care of, allowing the person to live as comfortably as possible until the end.

“The aim of palliative care is neither to hasten nor postpone death. Rather, we take as much anxiety and discomfort out of the experience as possible, both for the person and their loved ones, so that the family can focus on being together,” Dr Parthab says.

The personal caring support of an experienced team can help alleviate significant trauma in the final hours, so that the last memories may be calm. The family centred care of the newly renovated palliative care unit at Netcare Parklands Hospital also offers grieving families referrals to bereavement counselling services where needed.

“Leaving the world is as sacred a time as coming into it, and both are part of the same natural cycle of life. It is an honour to care for someone in their final journey to a peaceful and dignified rest and assist the family in their time of greatest need,” Dr Parthab says.

Thea Janse van Rensburg, general manager of Netcare Parklands Hospital, adds that caring for a person in the final chapter of life is an immense privilege. “We consider it a sacred trust of caring for our patients throughout their lives in a family centred approach that fully reflects our Netcare Group core value of care,” she concludes.

*Pseudonym used to protect the identity of the family.

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