Palliative Care Manages Pain and
Symptoms During Serious Illness
By Regina O’Donnell, NP
National Palliative Care Day falls
in October. The goal in establishing this day of recognition is to help people
understand how palliative care can improve the quality of life for someone
experiencing pain and discomfort related to life-threatening illness.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care is designed to meet
the medical, emotional, and spiritual needs of people who have life-threatening
illness. They may or may not be pursuing active life-extending treatment. They
may be suffering from acute episodes of chronic illness that cannot be cured.
Or they may be recovering from a bad accident and need help with pain control
at home while they heal. Palliative care services can be provided in the home,
for inpatients at Cayuga Medical Center, and for residents of nursing homes,
adult homes, and assisted living facilities.
What is the difference between
palliative care and hospice?
Palliative care represents the continuum
of services available to people who are seriously ill and are suffering pain
and other disturbing symptoms resulting from the illness or its treatment.
Palliative care is offered to anyone with a serious illness, whether or not it
is life threatening. Hospice is part of this continuum of care; however,
hospice is end-of-life care and is not available to people who are still
pursuing curative therapy. Thus people who would otherwise be eligible for
hospice, but who want to explore experimental curative therapies, are ideal
candidates for palliative care.
Who provides palliative care?
Palliative care providers are
health-care professionals who are experts in pain and symptom management, as
well as psychological and spiritual counseling, for both patient and family.
Local palliative care providers can be found at Hospicare and Palliative Care
Services of Tompkins County and at Cayuga Medical Center.
What kinds of problems can
palliative care address?
The medical director of Palliative
Care Services, Dr. Eric Lessinger, works with each patient’s own physician and
with a team of certified palliative care nurses to address issues such as:
pain, nausea and vomiting, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite, weakness,
digestive difficulties, and other physical symptoms related to the disease or
Social workers and spiritual-care
counselors are also available to provide short-term counseling and support for
palliative care patients and their families. The counseling team may address
emotional aspects of coping with a serious illness, communication problems and
stress within the family regarding the illness, advance directives, financial
concerns, and spiritual needs. All of the team members are excellent resources
on a wide variety of community services that may be helpful to someone coping
with serious illness.
How does the palliative care team
work with my doctor?
Whether you contact us directly
about palliative care services or your doctor refers you to us, we all work
together to help you and your family. Members of the palliative care team
contact your doctor, with your permission, for background information on your
illness and the problems you are facing that we can help with. We often assist doctors with patients who are
having complicated pain issues. If your doctor is concentrating on a curative
therapy that produces unpleasant side effects, the palliative care team focuses
on managing those side effects.
How do palliative care services
work in the hospital setting?
Palliation is becoming an integral
aspect of the hospital experience. At Cayuga Medical Center, palliative care is
provided by a joint team of caregivers from the medical center and Hospicare
and Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County. The team includes Dr. Lessinger,
nurses trained in palliative care, medical social workers, hospital chaplains,
and discharge planning nurses. The entire team can be available to help, or you
can self-select the particular services you need.
When is it best to contact the
palliative care team?
We like to meet people at the
beginning of a serious illness, before a crisis, because there are many
services we can provide. Our goal is to focus on more than just the illness; to
help patients and their families maintain the highest possible quality of life
through the illness, making each day the best it can be.
You can call Palliative Care
Services directly at (607) 272-0212, or you can ask your primary-care doctor or
hospitalist for a referral for palliative care. We welcome inquiries from
patients, family members, doctors, and other professional caregivers.
O’Donnell is a hospice and palliative nurse practitioner for Hospicare and
Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County. She is also a member of the
Palliative Care Team at Cayuga Medical Center. She can be reached at 272-0212.