‘Undignified end: My pet got better palliative care than my mother’

Nov 19, 2020
Like many Australians, Julie wonders if there's a better way to handle palliative care. Source: Getty

Once upon a few years ago, I kept rabbits. Cute, fluffy, loveable, quiet fur friends.

One of them developed a lump, so off to the vets we went. Pets cannot explain to a vet what is ailing them, that is the vet’s problem. Medicine was recommended to my largish bunny friend. But it was not effective, so off he went for a stay in the vet hospital.

He had a lovely clean cage provided and a fresh supply of carrots and lettuce. The vet nurses gave him constant therapeutic petting and handling. Old Bunny was surrounded by some of his hutch mates from home, for social grooming and like-minded companions.

His health took a turn for the worse, so his drug interventions were replaced by pain relief. More vet nurses’ therapeutic petting. Then the grieving family of pet lovers were sensitively counselled by a wise vet about the upcoming bereavement.

Yes, it was best practice palliative care, a dignified journey with appropriate euthanasia, totally peaceful. Now gone to the great hutch in the sky. RIP rabbit.

Well, that was a tale.

In contrast, my late mother was in a nursing home some time later, with similar medical conditions as the rabbit. Being a retired nurse, she was not a good, model patient, frequently abusing the ever-tolerant geriatric nursing team. Geriatrics is a true vocation. But there was no therapeutic petting here, no holding of hands. Tough.

The nurses checked bowels and meds. Mum did not like the food much, not many fresh vegetables here, unlike old Bunny’s leafy greens. Early one morning, about 9:30am, I visited my mother, who was at end-stage. She had practically collapsed from her bed, so I headed off to find a nurse.

Cut the nurse some slack, she was the only one on duty in a whole floor of frail geriatric clients. Half-an-hour later, I found the nurse. She promptly popped Mum back into bed. Mum called her and me a rude name, and took a swing at the nurse so the nurse placed her plate of cold toast in front of her, said, “Eat that!”, and stormed off to the nurses’ station for a coffee.

The toast had been sitting there since 7am. Not very dignified or peaceful. As I said, she was the only nurse there, which says a lot about staffing levels, even in that expensive nursing home.

Now I read the news these days about the state of geriatrics’ welfare. We are heading to the geriatric time of life. Would we all be better off with a vet’s palliative care? Maybe the nurse was having a bad hair day for a nurse.

Yes, a total contrast to Bunny’s vet hospital.

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What are your experiences with palliative care?

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