For the 83-year-old, Nitin Kumar (name changed) his family was everything. Like anybody in that age, he had started feeling more breathless and came to the doctors with the complaint of heart ailments. Kumar had a severe heart disease which took a toll on his kidney.
Kumar’s family approached the palliative care unit at Hinduja Hospital in quite a puzzled state. “This is the kind of question that most families come up with. The fact is we are so poorly prepared when it comes to condition of death that there is little or no awareness about how it is important to have conversations about palliative care,” said Dr Rajam Iyer, Head and Palliative Care Physician, PD Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre.
If you have seen the famous Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan starrer, ‘Anand’, you would probably remember the character of Rajesh Khanna as a very cheerful one. He portrays a character of a terminally ill patient who doesn’t wish to confine to bed and was clear that he wanted to die happily and cheerfully. That is the kind of life that palliative care tries to advocate, somewhere to help the person be bereft of pain and suffering.
‘Comfort care’ or ‘palliative care’ is the need of the hour. It involves providing chronically ill patients with relief from the symptoms or pain associated with the disease and seeks to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family. Some of the diseases that come under this are cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), dementia, kidney disease, alzheimer’s, parkinson’s etc.
“It has been about two weeks since the unit started here and we have already seen about 12 patients. Half of them were dealing with cancer and the rest were with severe cardiac conditions or dementia or so on. What people must know is that every patient and their family has the right to decide how and what needs to be done to them at the end of their life,” added Dr Iyer.
Experts further say that we think of palliative care as the last resort for terminally ill patients and don’t think of it as an important unit. “You know as an oncologist, when I see my patient I can identify whether or not the medications can lead to good outcome. We, as doctors can treat the symptoms but a lot of times, the diseases will not be fully cured. That is when palliative care becomes very important,” said Dr Shripad Banavali, Professor and Head of the department of Medicine and paediatric oncology at Tata Memorial Hospital.
He added, “Palliative care alongside definitive treatment can bore excellent outcomes also. Moreover, it is important to let a person die with dignity.”