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Palliative care brings comfort when there isn’t a cure

Palliative care

Jenae Arbuckle didn’t want to die when she swallowed 40 high-dose painkillers last June.

She just couldn’t see how she could possibly live one more day with the pain.

“I felt helpless and hopeless,” says Jenae, who in 2009 was diagnosed with severe adhesive arachnoiditis, a progressive illness that causes increasingly severe debilitation and excruciating pain.

Her overdose landed her in the intensive care unit at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, where the following day she was referred to the palliative care team.

Deanna Speer, a registered nurse with 27 years’ experience in providing palliative, or comfort, care, and Melissa Gaines, MD, one of several board-certified hospice and palliative care specialists on the hospital’s medical staff, gave her renewed hope.

“Meeting Deanna and Dr. Gaines, who understood me and what I was going through, was a breath of fresh air,” says the 48-year-old former police service officer.

Dr. Gaines switched her medication and regimen, providing Jenae some measure of relief before and after she left the hospital.

Equally important, Deanna and other team members quietly listened and heard what she had to say.

“It was like she knew what I was going through before I even said it,” says Jenae, who continues to talk with Deanna at least once or twice a month. 

Redefining hope and healing

Seriously or terminally ill patients often express fear of being in pain, being a burden to their loved ones or being alone. Likewise, their families don’t want them to suffer.

Deanna and her team are there to listen and help them define their goals of care, which may evolve over time depending on what the 20 to 25 patients she sees each month are facing.

“We help patients and families look at life through a new lens and redefine what hope and healing means to them,” says Deanna, adding that “even when our physical bodies are not serving us well, there is still a wholeness and healing that can take place.”

‘I am not alone’

More often than not, healing involves family.

“While the patient is the person who is sick, everyone around them experiences that illness in some way,” says Deanna, who sees herself as a guide in the process, not the driver.

“I’m just here to serve as a guide and a healing presence,” she says. “I help them establish a flexible itinerary, identify resources and possible means of getting to their desired destination, but the goals are their goals, not mine.”

It’s a role Deanna finds extremely rewarding.

“When you walk with people from the time of their diagnosis to that point where they are leaving this life, you see them at their most vulnerable,” she says. “There is no more holy ground than that.”

Jenae agrees.

“Deanna and her team were a blessing in disguise,” she says. “Nothing will ever make the pain go away completely, but it’s better than it was a year ago.

“And while I sometimes feel lonely, I know I am not alone.”

About Ascension Via Christi