Palliative care nurse advocates right to die with dignity

Frances sitting outside the hospital celebrating Pongala, a Hindu festival in which millions of women line the streets of the city and make payasum (similar to a sweet porridge dessert) as an offering for the gods. The payasum is blessed by priests and shared among everyone.

Frances sitting outside the hospital celebrating Pongala, a Hindu festival in which millions of women line the streets of the city and make payasum (similar to a sweet porridge dessert) as an offering for the gods. The payasum is blessed by priests and shared among everyone.

A St John of God Murdoch Hospital nurse spent three months in India using and sharing her experience to care for those without access to quality health care.

Frances Carman, who works at the Murdoch Community Hospice, is a passionate advocate for a dignified end to life.

“It is a human right for every person to die a dignified and painless death, although in India, where palliative care isn’t always recognised as a health care specialty, it is difficult for this to occur,” Frances says.

Frances volunteered with Pallium India, a charity in Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala. The foundation is the result of the tireless efforts of Dr M.R. Rajagopal, known affectionately as the father of palliative care, and the volunteers who dedicate countless hours to providing care to those who are dying.

Pallium operates from an old hospital at which staff meet every morning before visiting nearby villages, which can range from fishing villages to rubber plantations to mountain communities.

Half of the patients Frances visited had cancer, others were paralysed due to motorbike accidents or falling out of coconut trees and many had chronic respiratory, cardiac and renal conditions.

“Some patients lived below the poverty line, with no electricity or running water, others were well educated families with relatives overseas,” Frances says.

“We taught family members how to make their own saline for wound irrigation, hoist devices with ropes from the roof to help them pull themselves up and pressure relieving devices made from gloves filled with water, as some patients sleep on wooden bed frames with no mattresses.”

In addition to treating patients, Frances helped nurses with their patient assessments and gave workshops and lectures on palliative care.

Hospice Nurse Manager Glenys Joplin says the trip presented a wonderful opportunity for Frances to apply her skills from working at the Murdoch Community Hospice to those in need.

“We are so fortunate in Australia to have ready access to all medical services, the vast majority in India are not so fortunate, particularly in a heavily privatised health care system,” Glenys says.

Frances says the most rewarding aspects far outweighed any challenges of the trip and she was humbled and encouraged to see the way the staff enthusiastically changed their practice.

“This trip further reignited my passion for access to and delivery of palliative care,” Frances says.

“It’s such an important area of health care, just as the start of life is a wonderful and powerful moment, so too is end of life care.”

“Everyone has the right to die with dignity and peace.”

 

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