Supportive care for the one condition that affects us all
After birth, death is the only life event that is both inevitable and universal. Palliative care services at Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District bring people and their loved ones together with an integrated team of health professionals and volunteers, increasing comfort and quality of life at the time it is most needed.
Carolyn Wilkinson is Volunteer Coordinator for Supportive and Palliative Care services in Nepean and Hawkesbury with the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District
Palliative care, sometimes called supportive end-of-life care, represents a transformative point in the patient journey.
Instead of a focus on medical interventions aimed at extending one’s years, a more holistic and supportive approach takes over, focusing entirely on quality of life towards its end.
Carolyn Wilkinson, Volunteer Coordinator at Nepean and Hawkesbury for NBMLHD’s Supportive and Palliative Care services, is keen to emphasise the varied and complex ways in which well-conceived palliative care can positively enhance someone’s end-of-life experience.
“Mitigating issues with symptoms and particularly pain is certainly a priority,” says Carolyn, “but that’s not all palliative care takes into account”.
“What does life mean to you at this point? What's been important in your life so far?”
"Caring for people who are dying often means focusing on these sorts of questions, and we are also very much focused on whoever else is on that journey, such as family members and loved ones,” says Carolyn.
The nuanced work of palliative care aims to turn these broad considerations into a range of supports that meet the individual needs of clients.
“It's a very integrated and holistic approach across inpatient and community services,” says Carolyn.
“Goals of care are discussed collaboratively with the family and the person themselves, and we then make sure that all the doctors, nurses, allied health staff and volunteers are united in striving for those goals.”
Holistic and personalised support
While medicine often still has a central role to play, palliative care also offers much needed companionship and a range of other practical supports.
These supports can include accompanying patients to appointments, running errands, prepping meals, or providing much-needed respite for carers.
In recent years NBMLHD's Supportive and Palliative Care services have also offered clients the opportunity to complete their biography, putting intangible memories into words, or helping to preserve and memorialise a life’s history using photographs, diaries, and letters.
Much of this support is provided by dedicated volunteers who bring great experiential knowledge to their work.
Louise and Robin are long-serving volunteers with Supportive and Palliative Care services in the Blue Mountains.
Louise, a volunteer for over five years, says that caring for someone who is dying can be both rewarding and challenging.
“I’ve had experiences as a palliative care volunteer that have been fantastic for both the clients and for myself.”Louise
Robin, who trained as a nurse and has been a palliative care volunteer for over twenty-five years in the Blue Mountains, explains how her personal journey led to a fulfilling vocation.
“I started doing it because I had nursed my husband when he was dying at home, and I came to realise the value of being able to make that choice; to die at home,” says Robin.
“Because you’re not part of the family but are coming in as an outsider, often the client will talk to you about things they feel they can’t share with their nearest and dearest, and that’s very important.”
Matters of life and death
NBMLHD’s Carolyn Wilkinson says that while some may consider her field of work emotionally difficult, it is in fact a great privilege to share in and contribute to people’s valuable end-of-life experiences.
“Palliative care includes recognition and support for families and carers, which has a synergy with the beginning of life,” remarks Carolyn.
“Someone’s life may have a predetermined end, but even when their time is short they can still be supported to live - and sometimes they live extraordinarily well”.
Enquiries about palliative care volunteering can be made to the Nepean and Hawkesbury Palliative Care Coordinator, Carolyn Wilkinson at email@example.com, or through Melissa Williams at our partner organisation Belong Blue Mountains: firstname.lastname@example.org
Find more information about supportive and palliative care services on our website, and at Palliative Care NSW.
National Palliative Care Week runs from 21 to 27 May aiming to raise awareness of palliative care while normalising important conversations about death and dying.