The Brockville and District Hospice Palliative Care Service has played an integral community role since it was formed in 1979, each year providing support to numerous patients and their families coping with life-limiting illnesses.
Sisters Carole Hare, Suzanne Dodge, and Danielle Pilon were touched by the service when their mother, Madeleine Seguin, became critically ill earlier this summer.
Pilon, a registered nurse who has done end-of-life care herself, felt comfortable knowing that her mother's health was in the hands of Brockville's palliative care team.
“I felt that knowing she was coming to palliative care, her needs would be looked after, and her pain would be looked after,” she said.
Pilon was especially grateful for this peace of mind during her daughter's wedding, which happened while her mother was at the Brockville General Hospital’s Garden Street unit.
During the wedding, the palliative care team helped facilitate a Skype session that allowed Seguin to watch the ceremony from her bed. Hare's daughter, Krista Carroll, carried an iPhone, while a young nurse doing her orientation training on the palliative care floor helped Seguin operate an iPad.
“Ma was there. She had the front row seat; she saw the whole wedding,” said Hare.
“This young lady never left my mom for an hour and a half,” she said of the young nurse. “She was there the whole time ... She's a guardian angel.”
According to Hare, her mother was especially pleased that she got to see the hem of her granddaughter’s wedding dress, which she had altered herself.
While their mother was in hospital, the sisters stayed with her around the clock, alternating the overnight shifts. Being able to stay – something they likely wouldn't have been able to do with regular hospital visiting hours – made a difference.
“It meant us getting through this,” said Dodge.
Hare fondly remembered chatting with her mother from 2:45 a.m. to 4 a.m. during one of her overnight shifts. “The middle of the night communication with her was something. She developed a sense of humour that we'd never seen.”
According to Dr. Andy Thomas, acting chief of palliative care, 75 to 100 patients are registered at any given time with the service, which offers a six-bed palliative care unit, nursing visits, respite care, bereavement support, home consult services, and day programs.
“The purpose of palliative care is to assist patients and families with pain and symptom management and after-life care,” said Dr. Thomas.
It takes a dedicated team to keep the service running. The team consists of physicians, consult nurses, volunteer co-ordinators, volunteers, bereavement co-ordinators, day hospice partners, and clerical support.
Dodge was impressed by the “genuine compassion” of this group. “I felt like this fifth floor was an extension of our family.”
Her sisters felt the same way.
“I was very impressed with their invaluable service, and the great care and support that they gave,” said Hare. “They made her feel like a Queen.”
There is no charge for the palliative care service, and it is run without government funding. The program depends heavily on community support.
The 20th annual Friends of Palliative Care golf tournament, which will be held on Aug. 28 at the Brockville Country Club, is one of two major fundraising events – along with a telethon - held annually to support the service
“For a community this size, which already contributes to some amazing causes, it's amazing to me that it supports palliative care to the degree that it does. I think for many people, the reason they support it is that they have been touched by this,” Dr. Thomas said.
Dodge can attest to this. She has been involved with the telethon for years, but said this year will be different, because she now has a personal connection.
“I don't think you really understand the total picture, the value, until you've lived it yourself,” she said. “I don't know how families would cope without this service.”
NOTE: This is the second in a series of weekly features leading up to the 20th annual Friends of Palliative Care Golf Tournament, which takes place August 28 at Brockville Country Club