In commemoration of National Doctors’ Day and Physicians Week, I’d like to recognize some of the most honorable specialists in medicine – geriatricians and palliative care physicians – for the critical role they play in helping people age and die with grace and dignity.
My gratitude for the role they play is especially poignant this week as, after a very long battle with frontal temporal lobe dementia, my mother passed away two weeks ago. These physicians and hospice nurses provided compassionate and competent care that allowed my mother to pass at home in comfort and with dignity until her last breath.
Chronic illness takes a significant toll on the spouse and family caregivers. I witnessed the grace, compassion, and concern with which her doctors and nurses cared not only for my mother, but also for the surrounding family. They truly understand that illness impacts the whole family and have an approach that treats people as whole human beings, not diseased and fragmented body parts.
Whereas so many care teams struggle with fragmented communication, my mother’s care team exemplified what it means to be a connected one that understands not only the physical issues of the patient, but also the emotional and spiritual needs and fatigue the family encounters with a chronic illness like dementia. They strived to address our challenges and to support us.
A well-known healthcare industry analyst 10 years ago predicted the future of healthcare would be a real-time health system. In a presentation I attended recently he said that the future of healthcare 10 years from now will be connected care teams – connected with each other, and with patients and their families. At Agrace Hospital, I was delighted to see the nurses at my mother’s bedside communicating with the Vocera® Badges they wore around their necks. When I asked one nurse, “How do you like that technology?” she said, “I can’t live without it.”
Witnessing how my mother aged and died with grace has ignited in me a new passion for the role of technology in enabling grace at the end of life by connecting care teams in a more meaningful way by the power of the human voice. We can ease the suffering of humanity at times like this if we allow care teams to readily talk with each other about the patient’s care.
I’d like to express gratitude to the physicians and the nurses, Joan and Maggie, who cared for my mom at home; and those from Agrace Hospice Center in Madison, Wisconsin, who provided care for her there and at home. My father’s geriatrician in Madison, Dr. George Gay, played a critical role in supporting my father on this long journey, enabling him to stay strong to care for my mother at home. Our only regret is that he is now retired! Hopefully this blog will inspire young medical students to consider specializing in palliative care or geriatric medicine. It is a noble profession.
If you are interested in a conversation about enabling a stronger connected care team community, especially around how people live and die at the end of life, I welcome you to contact me on LinkedIn and on Twitter @drbridgetduffy.