Palliative Care

.. rpretation by using such other words. The Nurse needs to explore the issue of pain and help to identify the source. Location. Intensity, and Quality of the pain help to identify the source. Eg.

Bone, visceral or nerve pain. Identifying the source aids in determining the appropriate treatment method. The expert Nurse will be aware that nerve pain will not respond as well to opiates and that neuroleptic agents need to employed. As suggested earlier, as Nurses spend the most time with the patients they are able to obtain the most information on the patients response to pain management plans, they are able to educate patients on the need to take regular analgaesia; and they can be the most influential in management of pain. (Lindley, Dalton and Fields, 1990).

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Of course we as nurses in Palliative Care need to be aware that not all pain will respond well to traditional or “orthodox treatments”. Seeing a patient in pain and trying all pharmacological methods without success is distressing for staff as well as the patient and it is then that nurses should further attempt to employ other methods such as relaxation, distraction and music. Studies have shown that that listening to music disrupts the chronic pain cycle. Laughter, Massage and relaxation therapies have also been shown to interrupt this chronic pain cycle (Owens & Ehrenreich, 1991) and massaging a dying patients back or feet with oil blends incorporating lavender instils in many cases a feeling of peace, contentment and lessening of pain. Heat and cold packs are also said to be beneficial in the treatment of chronic pain however heat applications are said to be contraindicated in patients with poor vascular supply and in malignancy.

Most institutions have policies related to the use of thermal applications. As most nurses working with palliative patients will know, bowel management is of MAJOR importance! The Narcotics we administer to alleviate the symptom of pain have the side effect of causing the symptom of constipation. Vigilant monitoring of a patients bowel status is essential but it is of great importance that patients are not quizzed about their bowel actions in front of visitors or during meal times. Privately and quietly please! Cameron (1992) describes the types of constipation, these being primary and secondary due to pathology or iatrogenic. The goal of bowel management should be the prevention of constipation rather than treatment of constipation and appropriate assessment, regular administration of aperients, appropriate diet and fluids and provision of conditions favourable to bowel evacuation should all be part of the nurses management plan and patient education is paramount here for without the knowledge that opioids will contribute to constipation but that regular aperients will counteract this symptom, the patient is unable to make informed choices about his symptom control. Nausea and vomiting are other symptoms the nurse can provide valuable assistance in controlling again through adequate assessment and intervention. The nurse needs to be aware of possible causes of nausea and vomiting such as hypercalcaemia, disseminated carcinoma, renal failure and vestibular stimulation particularly in patients with primary brain tumours or secondary cancer deposits. Constipation and radiotherapy, urinary tract infection and chemotherapy- the causes are many and varied.

Hogan (1990) suggests that an understanding of the various pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions is the foundation of symptom control but that the nurse’s commitment to alleviate the symptoms is the most important variable. Simple techniques like minimising cooking smells, presenting small meals and ensuring offensive odours such as foul linen bags from the vicinity can all be employed in conjunction with pharmacological methods to minimise nausea and vomiting. Successful management requires an understanding of the cause of the symptoms. Other symptoms that may prove troublesome for the terminally ill patient include oral thrush and stomatitis, diarrhoea, lethargy and insomnia. Dyspnoea can be the cause of great distress and the expert nurse will be aware of the need to employ techniques to minimise discomfort. These may include reducing exertion by the patient, positioning them to allow maximum comfort when breathing and improving air circulation by use of fans or open windows.

Humidification by methods such as nebulised saline may also be helpful. Pharmacological methods such as morphine either orally, subcutaneously or as a nebulised solution have also been found to decrease the perception of breathlessness (Chater, 1991) and anxiolitics such as Lorazepam s/l are quite helpful. Reassurance and providing a calm environment are also helpful techniques to employ. Distressed relatives around the bedside can further increase the patients respiratory distress and it is at such times that the nurse needs to take them aside and explain to them what is happening and how they can help by remaining calm and distracting the patient or helping them to relax. For the terminally ill patient, being in control is vital and the nurse must appreciate that the patient though suffering an illness from which he will eventually die must be allowed to keep his self respect. This self respect can be eroded enough by the nature of the disease its symptoms and suffering, sorrow and emotional pain.

There are times when we as nurses see patients admitted to hospital who have already had their autonomy undermined. Whilst it may have been their wish to stay at home longer or until the end, families may feel the burden of care is too great and that they can no longer cope. This is usually when a new symptom presents that the family feel unable to manage. Nurses in the community may sometimes be able to prevent this situation arising by offering a more frequent or higher level of care supported by a Palliative Care Service, education of the family about the patients symptoms and how to help manage them. Sometimes admission is not what the patient wishes but the service is unable to provide appropriate management in the home. There is then an onus upon those providing the care to look at all options to enable the patient to achieve his goal of returning home.

To be autonomous means to have choice and control in our own lives yet we must accept that total autonomy is hardly ever possible. Sometimes there are circumstances in which it is not possible to challenge on the patients behalf- times when the patient may wish to have their autonomy eroded. There are times when the patient may not want our advocacy and times when we may not be able to give it- for example controversial ethical issues such as euthanasia. (Coyle, 1992). The nurse may sometimes develop feelings of helplessness and insecurity because of her unrealistic expectations of herself.

The complex role we play in management of the terminally ill sometimes may lead the nurse to think she should be all things to all people – the doctors ‘handmaiden’ the patients advocate, the families sounding board. Sometimes nurses can become over involved, infringing on the autonomy of the patient and the family (Scanlon, 1989) and must be aware of when to withdraw. At times when caring for a patient with uncontrollable physical or emotional pain the nurse may feel herself to be a failure. Add to this the likelihood of inadequate resources and staffing, staff conflict and role conflict and there is a pretty good recipe for stress. Abraham and Shandley (1992) list five main sources of work stress.

These being: 1. Work overload, 2. Difficulties relating to other staff, 3. Difficulties involved in nursing critically ill patients 4.concerns over patient treatment and 5. Nursing patients who fail to improve.

This again emphasises the fact that nurses specialising in palliative care are likely to suffer high levels of stress. CONCLUSION To help cope with these high demands and continue to maintain the delicate balance between what the patient wants and what the health professionals think the patient needs, nurses need to arm themselves with expert knowledge of symptom control, and be well aware of ethical issues related to palliative care. Nurses also need to maintain open active communication with their peers and other members of the Multidisciplinary Team. Employing some of the strategies we suggest for our patients to aid in relaxation such as Music and Laughter will also help in reducing levels of stress. But ultimately we must also realise that even if we do not influence a situation or supply an answer to all needs and if our patients do not maintain total autonomy, it is enough that we have been with them, supporting them as best we can in their journey to the end of their life.

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