Palliative Care – ‘It’s More Than You Think’

To mark the start of National Palliative Care Week we share “Farewelling Phil“. A Eulogy, so beautifully written by Phil’s family and shared here with their permission.

It truly was Little Haven’s privilege to support Phil’s loving family to honour his end of life wishes. Rest in Peace Phil

Farewelling a loved one is usually focused on their entry to the world, their childhood, life, family, achievements and habits, heaven forbid maybe even their eccentricities. All chapters that would be rich reading for Phil Stevenson’s 74 years, 10 months and 1 day on this earth.

But this story is not mine to share and I fear it would be incomplete, incorrect, or worse, inept.

Details of one’s final days, hours or utterances are discussed in hushed tones in corners with the clanking of teacups or glasses to muffle them. Not to be broadcast at ceremonies or captured in writing. Such details are quickly shared before passing on to the tall tales of the good old days – remember that time when Phil … did such and such, sang Me and Bobby McGee three times running, remember when he could command a crowded front bar on a Saturday night with just the right balance of humour, flattery, respect and authority … and then a mourner says who wants another drink?

Good times always more comfortable territory.

This time it’s different. The 11th May 2020, Phil’s final farewell, and its backdrop warrant a few words.

With the tyranny of distance … both miles and social distancing … working against a clan gathering to personally toast Phil’s life, here’s a few meagre offerings to give you a window into Phil’s farewell.

You know the plot development. On borrowed time, flouting all chemo conventions, Phil was able to share a second Christmas spread since the dreaded PET scan results that dominated his life from 20 December 2018.

What kept Phil going?

Fortitude, bullheadedness, meticulous tracking of appointments, ducking and weaving any talk of the end, maybe it was the magnesium, denial, or maybe his drive not to miss anything.

We need to bring in some other characters into this story. The Little Haven palliative care nurses had been trying for 15 months to help Phil but were regularly batted away and asked to ring again next week.

Early on a palliative nurse tells Lynette

“Phil’s form says he wants to die at home”.

Lynette replies

“well that’s not happening”.

But bit by bit, her and Katherine took on more and more.

After a stint in Gympie hospital in March medical equipment appears in Smedley Dr, nurses appear more regularly, Phil tries to dodge them and hates being left alone with them but no longer does anyone ponder what their role is. The front door is left open in anticipation of their arrival

Phil outfoxed even the best of the palliative care team on more than one occasion over the last month. Family, prepare yourselves, organise yourselves, any final goodbyes needed, GP put on alert over weekends should he be needed.

Lynette and Katherine deal with medical equipment, administer drugs, look for symptoms that need reporting or treatment, help Phil work through some states of confusion, somehow manage the night shifts, endure sleep deprivation, chew over possible endings, do daily chemist trips and sometimes think it’s time for a hospice, we can’t do this.

But the nurses were in no doubt, they could see what a great job they were doing, with encouragement and guidance, they sure did do it.

Katherine was key to allowing Phil such a peaceful farewell with constant and diligent tracking, administering and recording his medications.

The manager of Little Haven told me on Monday that the nurses were honoured to have worked with Lynette and Katherine in nursing Phil. That both Lynette and Katherine had done things they had thought beyond them but time and again they stepped up into new roles to make Phil’s last weeks comfortable and restful.

Phil passed away peacefully in his bed surrounded by family.
There was no institutional banging and clanging, no strangers to be avoided in corridors and no endless checking of a chart at the end of the bed.

Amy, a gorgeous soul, caring and proficient, took our call at the end of her shift on Monday to tend to Phil’s last needs. She commented how touched she was to see Phil lying peacefully under his baby photo on the wall. Softly she asks if any of us want to help wash and dress Phil, dear Eliza doesn’t hesitate.

Amy joins us until the funeral director arrives for Phil. A beautiful time to share stories, talk to family and loved ones, some laughs, tears, final moments shared with Phil.

Headlights appear and we know it’s time – without the need for words we line the corridor to honour Phil as he leaves home wearing his favourite cap against the night chill.

His journey was a tough one and one he resisted until he could fight no longer but as final days go it’s hard to see how it could have been more gentle, peaceful or dignified.

Not much consolation Phil, who is still singing Me and Bobby McGee:

“I’d trade all of my tomorrows, for a single yesterday”.


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