Palliative Care Week 2020 calls on us to come together to keep our most vulnerable safe as we brace ourselves for the coming months through the lens of a pandemic. Our responsibility to support people living on the spectrum of palliative care has increased exponentially in the Covid-19 battle. The challenge goes beyond one response, one organisation and one country. To protect the most vulnerable in our communities requires us to work together, as a dynamic system, that provides health and social care and support creatively and safely.
Our personal responsibility starts with personal hygiene and adhering to government guidelines on social contact and self-isolation. Our community responsibility calls on us to think not of ourselves but of those who need our help and to take action, therefore we must consider the word ‘community’ a verb and not a noun.
Consider Mrs Gallagher is number 18 now living alone following the death of her husband, Barney. At 87 years she is consumed with grief that is compounded with not being able to hold Barney’s hand as he died in the nursing home. She is fearful to leave her home to get groceries and finds it difficult to keep up to date with changing government guidelines regarding Covid-19. Mrs Gallagher worries about the months ahead that will bring long dark nights and bad weather.
And there’s George, in number 44, who is caring for his wife, Jean, who is going through treatment for cancer. Jean is terminal and is at high risk of infection. The hospice nurse comes regularly but they are fearful to leave the house for anything other than hospital appointments. Their 14-year-old son is back at school and must take to a bus every day increasing his exposure to the virus.
I can’t replace Barney for Mrs Gallagher but I can help her feel less alone. Asking her if is she would like the local paper dropped in her letterbox every morning reminds her that she matters. A phone call once or twice a week will help her feel less isolated, checking she has all that she needs will make her feel safe.
I can’t impact Jean’s terminal diagnosis but I can offer some practical help. Cutting George’s grass will mean one less thing for him to do. Listening to his concerns will lighten the burden of 24/7 care giving. Offering to take their son to school will offer an alternative to a crowded public bus.
We often underestimate our power to positively impact another’s life through compassion is action. People living on the spectrum of palliative care spend only 5% of their time with healthcare professionals. The majority if their time is spent at home, in their community. As family, friends and neighbours we have a role to play also, to offer practical and emotional support that lightens the load and dissolves social isolation. People suffer enough already, to have to suffer alone is not acceptable.