The Soap Box — April 10, 2014 at 4:52 am

Empathy and the End of Life

by

Sometimes in our line of work, our patients do not get better.  Sometimes, despite our best efforts, they get worse.  And sometimes they die.  This month  has been a difficult one, as the majority of my hospital caseload has included patients at the end of life.  I have also had a graduate student working with me. Needless to say, we have experienced many “teachable moments” together this month and my twitter feed has been surprisingly supportive (see posts/retweets @CCCSLPNET).

What  I have learned/tried to teach is:

The  importance of  understanding the patient’s goals and perspective.

The importance of withholding  my personal feelings/judgements while providing the most accurate information I can to explain the patient’s deficits.

The importance of alternatives, knowing that if ‘Plan A’ does not meet the patient’s goals, there needs to be a ‘Plan B’, and possibly a ‘Plan C’.

The importance of teamwork

I am fortunate to work with a wonderful team of physicians, nurses, dietitians, case managers and a great Palliative Nurse Practitioner.  Through these collaborations I have learned that the Palliative Care conversation, that “first conversation” can happen early, before the end of life, to help clarify the patient’s goals for care in  order to mitigate unnecessary care and  avoid unwanted returns  to the hospital. I have learned to avoid blaming the patient for their informed choices by endeavoring to eliminate the  term “non-compliant” from my documentation.  If after education, the patient decides not to follow my recommendations, that is their choice.  They are not non-compliant.  They are choosing a different course of care based on their goals/values.  I need to respect that.

My biggest contribution to my team has been in providing education regarding what alternative nutrition (G tubes) can and cannot do for chronically ill patients at the end of life. Knowing that G tubes are contraindicated in patients over 75, with advanced dementia, advanced/chronic illness, low BMI, previous aspiration and UTI and that there is no evidence that tube feeding in patients with advanced dementia prolongs survival, prevents aspiration pneumonia, reduces the risk of pressures sores or infections, improves function or provides comfort has helped our team in its quest for compassionate care.

It is always an on-going process.  Each patient is different and it is never easy, but we strive. I remind myself that it is an honor and a privilege to  assist in the care of these patients at this stage of their life…. That helps.

For more information regarding Palliative Care and PEG tubes see:
Plonk Jr., WM. To PEG or Not to PEG. Practical Gastroenterology. July, 2005.  pp 18-31.  Great summary with multiple additional references.

About the Author

Lisa Yauch-Cadden was born and raised in the Detroit, Michigan area. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master’s in Speech Language Pathology from the University of Michigan. She has worked as an SLP in nearly all facets of the field: skilled nursing facilities, home care, acute care, transitional care, medical offices and schools. Throughout her career as a therapist, manager and business owner, Lisa has never strayed from providing direct line service, including state of the art evaluations using FEES/FEESST and MBS. While she needs no accolades to do her job, she is deserving of many. Her tireless efforts to advance the best clinical practices in Speech Language Pathology have changed lives for her patients, her clinical fellows, and those of us lucky enough to work with her on a regular basis. Contact Lisa at lycslp@gmail.com.
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One Comment

  1. Lisa, Thank you for this well writtenarticle! Your insight into the difficulties and joys of working with the end of life patient were so welcomed! Thank you especially for sharing the contraindications for G-tube placement~ things all clinicians should consider as they work with the chronically ill and aging population ~ well done!G

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