Palliative care: Being there for patient and family when the time is right

Palliative care addresses human needs on the physical, emotional, social and spiritual dimensions.

A son, a brother, a husband and a father — Louis Kraus was many things to many people. Often described as stoic and reserved, the Army veteran from Tell City, Indiana, knew one thing for sure: He wanted to die at home.

Kraus was admitted to Norton Hospital on a Saturday evening in early May 2017. He was struggling with the side effects of a recent chemotherapy treatment for his second cancer diagnosis. This time the cancer had spread.

“I remember just sitting with my father at the hospital,” said Gretchen Durbin, his daughter. “We weren’t talking — just being together. That was my dad. Words didn’t have to be spoken. He just wanted to be in the moment.”

Support after a tough decision

Shortly after talking with the medical team, Kraus made the decision to stop further cancer treatment. He and his family sought the support of the palliative care program at Norton Hospital.

Durbin and her father met Jennifer Ajkay, APRN, palliative care nurse practitioner. They developed a connection almost instantly.

“Jennifer sat at the foot of my father’s hospital bed and plainly asked him about his life’s story. And while my father talked, she just listened with great intent. I could tell she really cared,” Durbin said. “It wasn’t a nurse and a patient talking, but more of a compassionate person listening to her new friend share his story.”

Just listen

Listening is a critical component to palliative care.

The palliative care program provides a special kind of care for people experiencing serious illness. It addresses human needs on the physical, emotional, social and spiritual dimensions. The patient’s concerns, choices and care goals are the team’s constant focus. The multidisciplinary palliative care team is specifically trained to address patients’ and families’ needs in all of these areas.

At Norton Hospital, a physician, nurse practitioners, social workers and shared chaplains are on the palliative care team.

Time to go home

With Kraus and his family, the goals and expectations were clear: He wanted to go home and be with his loved ones.

The team worked quickly to help Durbin establish a care plan for her father. He was enrolled in home hospice care and medical supplies were delivered. Prior to his discharge from the hospital, the team prepared the family emotionally for what the next stage would bring.

“I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but looking back on it the team was preparing us for the end of dad’s life,” Durbin said.

After a brief hospital stay, Kraus got his wish. He returned home. Nine days later, he died in his home in comfort among his family and friends.

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