Restaurant excursions, film screenings and family weddings in hospital help those in Palliative Care
Head Nurse Kathia Dorcélus-Cétoute often asks patients in the JGH Palliative Care Unit a simple yet profound question. If she were a genie and could grant them one final wish, what would it be?
Like the question, the answers can be simple yet meaningful. One patient asked to spend his last days in hospital with his beloved cat. Another asked to go to an upscale Montreal restaurant. Others have asked to go to the movies or to set up their children in a furnished home.
Working quietly and methodically behind the scenes, Ms. Dorcélus-Cétoute and other staff members set out to make these dreams become a reality. To patients facing some of their most difficult hours, these acts of kindness bring a measure of joy and comfort to their final days.
“We want to know what each patients wants. Yes, their illness is there. But we treat people in all their facets—their body, spirit and soul.”Kathia Dorcélus-Cétoute, Head Nurse
Every day, multidisciplinary teams at the Jewish General Hospital and at sites across our CIUSSS seek to ease suffering and give meaning to the lives of those facing life-limiting illness. One way to achieve that is by trying to fulfill patients’ personal wishes.
A few years ago, a 27-year-old patient with terminal cancer confided to Ms. Dorcélus-Cétoute that she’d always dreamed of eating at the high-end restaurant Toqué! In response, the care team not only arranged a free, full-course meal for the patient and her boyfriend; the night of the outing, they outfitted her in a lacy, white dress—donated by The JGH Auxiliary—and had her makeup applied professionally. The couple was picked up by limousine.
“She told us afterwards that she and her boyfriend had always wanted to get married, but it wasn’t possible because of her illness,” Ms. Dorcélus-Cétoute recounted. “She said it was like the wedding she never had.” The young woman passed away a week later.
On another occasion, a terminally ill single mother was agonizing over the fate of her three school-aged children, who had been poised to move with her into a new apartment. She could no longer be there with them, but she said she would feel reassured if she knew they could be set up in a home filled with toys and furniture. The Palliative Care team contacted IKEA to share the woman’s story. The furniture giant responded by donating furniture, bedding, carpets, pictures and playthings for the children’s room. Ms. Dorcélus-Cétoute and Nursing Consultant Marie-Laurence Fortin went to the apartment during their off-hours to assemble the furniture and decorate the space, and the children moved in with a family member after their mother passed away.
“Everyone’s story is precious.”Kathia Dorcélus-Cétoute
These efforts illustrate how Palliative Care does much more than provide specialized medical services. A team that includes doctors, nurses, social workers, music therapists, pastoral advisors and many others tend to patients’ spiritual, emotional and psychological needs.
“We explore with patients what they imagine would make them feel better, even in an impossible situation,” says Dr. Jean Zigby, Chief of the JGH Palliative Care Unit. “We let them lead us to where they want to go.”
Many patients have already suffered through their illness and treatment by the time they arrive in Palliative Care, and the team becomes, in a sense, like family, he says.
“It takes a village to die well,” says Dr. Zigby, who is also Director of the Division of Palliative and Supportive Care for CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.
“You have to believe that loving people, both through medical science and through the care we give, is going to heal them at the end of their lives.”Dr. Jean Zigby, Chief of Palliative Care
Fulfilling wishes is one step toward that goal. “Some people can live beautiful moments up until their very last hours and days, which they couldn’t do if it weren’t for the incredible care provided by our team,” Dr. Zigby says. “These are some of the most dedicated people that you can ever imagine.”
Areti Anastassopoulos, a Palliative Care Nurse Consultant at the JGH, recalls a patient with terminal cancer who dreamed of going to Greece before he died. His health condition wouldn’t allow it, so Ms. Anastassopoulos did the next best thing. During her own, personal trip to Greece, she collected sand from a beach and brought it back in a plastic bag to the Palliative Care Unit, where she poured it into a basin so the patient could sink his feet into it.
“He told me, ‘I can feel the heat of the sun in Greece on my feet,’” recalls Ms. Anastassopoulos. “It was a beautiful moment.”
After the patient died, his mother poured the sand over his coffin at his burial.
In March, a woman in Palliative Care confided to Social Worker Vivian Myron that she was sorry she wouldn’t live to see her engaged daughter get married. Within hours, Ms. Myron bought decorations and arranged to hold a wedding ceremony in the patient’s room. She died the next day.
Another person who benefited from the team’s attention was 68-year-old Marion Le Blanc, who moved into the Palliative Care Unit this past September. At first, by her own admission, she was depressed. Then, with each gesture and act of kindness from staff, her attitude began to change. One day, she mentioned to nurses that she wished she could have a smoothie; the following morning, one was brought from Second Cup. Then she admitted she had a craving for brownies; one appeared the next morning.
“This is the best staff you could possibly ask for. They’re constantly asking: ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’”Marion Le Blanc
“Let people know that the staff are special here,” Ms. Le Blanc said on October 2 during a conversation with 360 Newsletter in her room, surrounded by trinkets and decorative objects from home.“Tell them how kind they are and how much empathy and understanding they’ve shown me. It saved me. I feel like I’ve come alive.”
Ten days later, Ms. Le Blanc passed away.
Her final days were soothed by those who surrounded her at the JGH, whether they were housekeepers or art therapists, nurses or social workers.
“We have all been the last person around when someone takes their last breath,” Dr. Zigby says. “It’s a heavy weight, and it’s also an honour and a privilege. And you have to love caring for people to do it.”