Newspaper article International New York Times

Palliative Care: Treatment That Respects Pain ; Patients and Doctors Find That This Type of Approach Is Not Just for the Dying

Newspaper article International New York Times

Palliative Care: Treatment That Respects Pain ; Patients and Doctors Find That This Type of Approach Is Not Just for the Dying

Article excerpt

Contrary to a common misconception, palliative care is not meant just for the dying, but a shortage of doctors trained in it remains an obstacle to its wider use.

Anyone faced with a life-threatening or chronic illness should be so lucky as Catherine, a 27-year-old waitress in New York.

Diane E. Meier, a palliative care specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center, recalled her young patient's story in an article published in 2011 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Catherine, who was not further identified to preserve her privacy, was diagnosed with leukemia and suffered intractable bone pain, unrelieved by acetaminophen with codeine.

Still, she was unwilling to take opioids to relieve the pain because a family member had had problems with substance abuse. Dr. Meier and her team were called in to help, and their counsel allayed the young woman's fears of addiction and helped her understand that pain relief was an important part of her treatment. Catherine recovered, eventually attending graduate school and marrying. Her story, Dr. Meier wrote, told us something about the importance of palliative care: Her doctors were focused on curing her cancer, but it was her suffering that "posed significant -- but remediable -- burdens on the patient."

Palliative care physicians like Dr. Meier focus on the relief of that suffering, and not just for the dying. All patients deserve palliative care whether they are terminally ill, expected to recover fully, or facing years with debilitating symptoms of a chronic or progressive disease.

"The vast majority of patients who need palliative care are not dying," Dr. Meier, the director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, said in an interview. "They are debilitated by things like arthritic pain that affect the quality of their lives and ability to function, and can eventually impact their survival."

If I had received palliative care following my double knee replacement, I might have avoided the serious pain that left me depressed and unable to resume a normal life for many more weeks than it should have. If my elderly aunt had had access to palliative care when she was placed in intensive care, she might not have become delirious and suffered an abrupt progression of dementia from which she never recovered.

The benefits of palliative care include fewer trips to the emergency room or hospital, lower medical costs, improved ability to function and enjoy life and, several studies have shown, prolonged survival for the terminally ill. These virtues far outweigh what it would cost to make this service universally available in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, assisted living facilities and patients' homes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.