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Palliative care

When we fall seriously ill, something changes inside every one of us. The disease brings not only pains and other physical problems, but also different emotions, such as fear of pain and examinations, worries about the treatment bill (in cases of chemotherapy, insulin treatment), thoughts about death, questions why and anger because this is happening to us, worries about the ones we care about most. Our needs and wishes change and we become dependant on others in many ways. All these changes require that we adapt to the new conditions and gradually accept the new reality. We become aware that we need help; often, our loved ones require help, too.

We would like to present to you palliative care, which has been developed to improve versatile help for the patients with a chronic or an incurable disease, and we are glad that it is becoming obtainable also to our patients.

World Health Organization (WHO) defines palliative care as active help for the terminally ill and their family members. An incurable disease is not only cancer, but also other chronically progressing diseases. The life span of patients with such diseases differs; however, all of them require help of numerous experts during the time of the illness. The extent of the help intensifies from the beginning of the illness until death. The patient's family members must also receive help.

What does palliative care mean to patients and their family members?
We try to relieve pain and other disturbing symptoms to the greatest possible extent; we also take care of their psychological and spiritual needs and the needs of their family members. We help them to lead a better-quality and, if possible, active life until death (according to their abilities), and provide help for the patient's family during the disease as well as after the patient's death, during the period of mourning.

Unfortunately, there is still a large number of the terminally ill today, these patients do not receive a satisfactory treatment during the final stage of disease, since health care professionals and family members wish to prolong their life at any cost, although their life cannot be prolonged considerably. What we can do is to alleviate or eliminate their suffering and improve the quality of their remaining life. We do not accelerate or postpone death, but accept it as a natural process. Our work aims to develop compassion and hope.

The prerequisite for successful palliative care is good communication between the staff, patients and their family members. The patient and his loved ones should trust the experts participating in the palliative care team with their problems, wishes and expectations. What is also important is that they actively participate in the planning of procedures in a time when they will not be able to actively decide for themselves (refusal of hospital treatment in the last stage of the disease, refusal of resuscitation and other hopeless attempts to prolong life). In this way, the patient and his/or her family members are becoming equal members of the team and actively participate in the treatment.

Who performs palliative care?
The palliative care hospital team consists of the personal physician and home care service as well as a specialist, a nurse and other experts who help patients and their family members when needed: a physiotherapist, social worker, psychologist, dietician, priest as well as volunteers and co-workers of the Hospice Society.

Urska Lunder MD