Palliative Care Demonstrates Christ’s Healing Ministry

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. — Matt. 11:28–29

Kraig Russell, medical director of inpatient palliative care services at Adventist Medical Center (AMC) in Portland, Ore., remembers a pivotal moment during his medical residency at the University of Cincinnati more than 10 years ago.

“Several of my patients, who were not the healthiest, were not compliant with their medications,” he says. “The only way I knew to help them was to encourage them to take their medications and to fit them into the model of health care I was being taught. It was frustrating on both sides. Then I decided I would sit back and simply ask them how they were doing. I got to know them as individuals. I got to know their life experiences and what made them human. And my patients brightened up. They became more interested in participating in their health care and more compliant with their prescribed treatments. I knew there must be a holistic approach to health care that would fit into this paradigm of healing I had found. And that’s when I discovered palliative care.”

Palliative care is, at its core, the fulfillment of Adventist Health’s mission to share God’s love through physical, mental and spiritual healing. Often confused with hospice, palliative care brings physical, emotional and spiritual relief to patients and families not just at the end of life but also when they need supportive, comforting care during a chronic or advanced illness. It’s one of the most rapidly evolving medical specialties in the United States.

“We have many patients with illnesses like COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], heart failure, Parkinson’s disease or cancer, which can’t be cured but can be managed, often for a long time,” said Karen Johnson, a certified hospice and palliative care nurse at AMC. “Patients may have pain and need emotional and spiritual support. We help them in a very holistic way, demonstrating the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.”

“Step one is to find out what bothers a patient the most,” Russell says. “Do they have pain? What’s their priority in life? What’s their value system? One of the most important things is having a doctor who will sit down and really listen to what their needs are and then help talk through different treatment options and resources.”

Russell remembered one patient with cancer. “He was in terrible pain," Russell explains. "We were able to get his pain under much better control so he could actually undergo the procedure of receiving the biopsy.”

A key component of palliative care is ensuring the family also understands their loved one’s wishes, Johnson said. “In many cases they’ve never talked about what they would want if something devastating happened. They don’t even know where to start. We’ll have a family meeting to discuss what’s going on, and the goals of care.”

“We’re blessed,” Johnson continued, “in being able to support these patients and families during very difficult times.”

September 22, 2014 / Adventist Health
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