“Jonathan, there is a phone call for you” my wife called out from the kitchen. It was 9pm and Jenny, one of senior registrered nurses from the nursing home was on the line.

“I think Howard’s declining quickly Jonathan, the carers have just taken him back to bed and they’ve said that he’s had trouble breathing all evening. I listened to his chest and taken his observations, it isn’t looking good, I’ve called his family and let them know”.

Howard’s time was near, and through the urgency in her voice I knew we had to institute comfort care quickly. I gave Jenny a phone order for some glycopyrrolate for his secretions and subcutaneous morphine to help with his breathing and unease.

I’d worked with Jenny closely before, in the care of several dying patients and I trusted her judgement and instincts.

Later that night Howard passed away, the pneumonia that he was battling had caught up with him. It was his wish not to be treated with antibiotics nor to be sent to the hospital, for he wanted to see his wife again and peacefully pass away.

The team in the nursing home worked seamlessly that night to ensure that Howard was comfortable. His difficulties were recognised early by the carers who had gotten to know him. His symptoms were appeased pre-emptively by a nurse who expertly treated him and my role was supportive, as we’d discussed at length with his family clearly and candidly what Howard’s wishes were for his death.

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As I reflected on the events of this night, I was thankful that our team had worked so well together and the professionalism that each member showed, allowed Howard to die peacefully.

This is in contrast to the current landscape of aged care is being dominated by cunningly crafted headlines designed to sell us the idea that the state of our aged care system is in disarray.

But under the sensationalism and the sweeping change that is affecting the aged care sector, there is a dedicated group of health professionals who are the the coal face everyday, performing and perfecting their craft of quality aged and palliative care.

As the aged care industry moves into the consumer driven care model, there will be no longer be a place, for the health professional who is simply present at work and doesn’t contribute to the excellence of aged care

My journey into aged care was unexpected and the people who have inspired me, captured my attention and stirred up my passion, all share similar qualities.

Robin Sharma aptly describes these people in his brilliant book “The Leader who had no title”. The premise of this book is that ANYONE can lead positive change and siginificantly affect and contribute to the lives of their fellow workers, patients or clients by their words, actions and attitude.

I’ve noticed that health professionals who standout in aged care:

  • Place honesty, patience and compassion as their underlying mode of operation everyday
  • Continue to learn and practice their craft daily by attending lectures and courses, reading widely, teaching others and never settling for anything less than world class
  • Are always looking for ways to improve the lives of their residents and encourage their fellow staff members
  • Are usually the one most enthusiastic persons in the room, using their energy and attitude to uplift others
  • Adopt a posture of humility by serving their patients and learning from their lives daily
  • Are master listeners to their patients and their families, giving them attention in a world full of noise and distraction
  • Are strong advocates for their patients and are relentless in ensuring their comfort, dignity and safety

I believe the future of aged care in Australia is bright as there are linchpins and leaders with no title working hard everywhere, pushing the boundaries of their comfort zone, knowing that the best is yet to come.

My encouragement to anyone considering stepping into aged and palliative care is to stay humble, produce world class work, support your colleagues and always look for opportunities to innovate.

In this way, we will help to respect our elders who have shaped and protected our nation to age gracefully and pass away with dignity and in comfort.

This story was originally published on The Healthy GP 

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