In a hospital that often operates beyond its bed capacity, there’s one bed, in a big, bright, beautiful room that’s reserved for a very special patient and family experience.
It’s the “Special Care Bed” at Peterborough Regional Health Centre’s palliative unit – a specially designed and appointed room where patients, and their families, who present to the Emergency Department can spend their final moments with a loved one.
“Emergency departments are very busy, hectic environments – not ideal for patients and family members who need a quiet environment in which to say ‘goodbye’,”says Theresa Morris, PRHC’s palliative care nurse consultant coordinator.
PRHC’s Special Care Bed practices are believed to be unique in Ontario, and have received much interest from other hospitals and Palliative Care practitioners. Morris explains the Special Care Bed is the right bed in the right place for the best end of life care possible.
“The physical environment is different than it is in the ER. The emotional and spiritual environments are different. Family members are comforted in a big, private room, allowing them to attend their loved one’s death in a dignified way,” says Morris, adding patients can, and are oftentimes transferred from the ER to the Special Care Bed very quickly.
Once patients and their families arrive in Palliative Care, they immediately begin to benefit from the experience and expertise of the multidisciplinary team – specifically the nurses. Palliative Care nurses are skilled at bonding very quickly with family members and in a matter of minutes, establish a relationship, putting everyone at ease.
Palliative care nurses also educate family members about the physical symptoms their loved one might experience. Their work is, in essence, to normalize the end of life experience. “Personal experience and research tells us that family members who have a bad bereavement experience are greatly affected,” explains Jagger Smith, PRHC’s palliative care manager. “Every team member in our area wants to make sure that this difficult time is as comfortable as it can be.”
“Grief is a visceral experience that people need to heal from. And there’s less for family members to overcome if they can move forward from a positive place,” says Smith. “Death is a life event, and as a hospital – as health professionals – it’s part of what we do. We look after people at birth and we look after people at death. There are few more noble responsibilities that I can think of.”
Ninety-five-year-old Alan Peterman was transferred from PRHC’s ER to the Palliative Care unit just three hours before his passing. His son, Michael, says that despite his age, and having learned in the ER that his father had suffered a heart attack and had pneumonia, he wasn’t expecting him to die.
“My father had a great ability to rally, and survive all sorts of things,” says Peterman, adding he walked alongside his father, as his nurse and his porter transferred him to the Palliative Care unit.
Peterman describes not only the “pleasantness” of the unit, with its original artwork and windows, but the special skill of the staff members.
“They left us alone to talk to him…but clearly they knew he was going to die shortly, and they would appear,” he says. “I had the sense of loving care with virtually everyone we dealt with.”
Cara Peterman says the words “palliative care” were always terrifying to her, but as she accompanied her father-in-law into the unit, she began to feel surprisingly better.
“I couldn’t believe it – the Palliative Care unit didn’t feel as much like a hospital, and that made it much easier,” she says. “We really appreciated that the staff explained everything. They were focused on you and took the time to make everything so comfortable. We went away feeling that everything had been done that could have been done. It really was a blessing.”