Palliative carers celebrated as the unsung heroes of healthcare

HELP: Palliative care nurse practitioner Jenny McKenzie shows Bill Robinson some equipment for his wife Pam, who has motor neurone disease. The unsung heroes of health help people live their last days to the full.

HELP: Palliative care nurse practitioner Jenny McKenzie shows Bill Robinson some equipment for his wife Pam, who has motor neurone disease. The unsung heroes of health help people live their last days to the full.

Jenny McKenzie found her calling as she cared for a dying woman named Maisie.

“I still remember her clearly, she was a lovely lady,” Mrs McKenzie said. “I was a second-year nurse and Maisie’s family tracked me down after she died to say thanks for what I had done for her. I didn’t do much, it was only small things, but they made a big difference.”

For more than 20 years, Mrs McKenzie has been surrounded by death and dying, but the palliative care nurse practitioner said there’s nothing she’d rather do.

“This is the best job in the world,” Mrs McKenzie said.

“The health industry is very focused on returning a patient to good health but for a percentage of people that’s not a possibility. We get to know the patients and their goals and when we help them achieve them it’s so satisfying.”

Rather than focusing on death, Mrs McKenzie said palliative care focused on life.

“Death takes minutes,” she said, “but we’re all living until we get there.”

Most people get uncomfortable when they hear the words “palliative care”, especially when their loved one is dying. But for Bill and Pam Robinson, those words have helped enormously.

Mrs Robinson was diagnosed with motor neurone disease two years ago, a cruel illness that had since robbed her of her voice. Her husband explained how nurses like Mrs McKenzie had helped them.

“”Like most we said no, palliative care is only for the end, but that’s so wrong,” Mr Robinson said. “The earlier you get it, the better the outcomes. They’re marvellous, with their visits, moral support and peace of mind.”

Palliative care became a political issue last year, with the Cancer Council campaigning for more funding from the state government. Policy and advocacy manager Kelly Williams said there had been massive support for the I Care for Palliative Care campaign.

However, despite the focus on end-of-life care, there was an important message Mrs McKenzie had for the community.

“Have a chat with your loved ones, it doesn’t have to be huge, but when the time comes you know what to do,” she said. “Research shows talking about death doesn’t cause death.”

Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) palliative care manager Keryl Dallinger said the demand for palliative care was increasing with an ageing population.

“Professionals and volunteers are needed in our community to support patients and carers deal with dying, death and bereavement,”  Ms Dallinger said.

“We encourage everyone to discuss their end-of-life wishes with their loved ones and health care team using the Dying to Talk discussion starter. 

“Knowing what is important to you will reduce their burden at a difficult time and ensure you get the care you desire.”

Find the Dying to Talk discussion starter here

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