Celebrating life, in all its furry forms

Cole and his service Dog, Bingo. Photo credit to the Bingo Hein Facebook page.

I’m a tried and true animal lover—my dog Chase is an amazing companion and, as I mentioned before, is an incredible stress reliever for me.

And as anyone who’s had a pet in their life can attest, they quickly become members of the family—so much so that when they become ill it can be almost as devastating as when faced with the illness of a loved one. So it makes sense that as we learn more about the care and treatment of animals from a medical perspective, we also advance our understanding of their end-of-life needs. This fascinating article details just exactly how some veterinarians are doing just that.

As the article points out, a lot of animals that receive terminal diagnoses have lots of time remaining in their lives, with lots of wonderful moments to be shared with their families. And just as the goal of human palliative care ensure that a patient has the highest quality of life possible and help them to celebrate the impact their lives have on others, so too can we do the same for the companion animals who’ve done so much for us.

I was especially moved by this piece on a Manitoba boy who created a Lick-it List for his ailing service dog. Sadly Bingo passed away on September 14th, but what a beautiful gift his family and strangers from all around the world gave them all. Talk about honouring that furry, but no less special, life.

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Meditating my way towards perspective

Ever since my time at Upaya, meditation has been playing an increasingly important role in my life. In fact, it’s an important part of the coping mechanisms to avoid stress and burn-out that I talked about a few weeks ago.

I’d taken a break from it for a little while, but recently a friend got me back into practicing it more regularly. She sent me this little blurb as a reminder why it had been so important to me to do in the first place:

12 symptoms of a spiritual awakening:

1.   An increased tendency to let things happen rather than making them happen.
2.   Frequent attacks of smiling.
3.   Feelings of being connected with others and nature.
4.   Frequently overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
5.   A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather out of fear based on past experience.
6.   An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
7.   A loss of the ability to worry.
8.   A loss of interest in conflict.
9.   A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
10. A loss of interest in judging others.
11. A loss of interest in judging oneself.
12. Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything in return.

People sometimes get thrown off by the words “spiritual awakening,” but they needn’t be The beauty of meditation is that it requires no religious affiliation to be practiced.. In the context of meditation, it’s really just about achieving psychological balance, calm, and emotional and physical relaxation—what person couldn’t use more of those things their life?

And the benefits of meditation are countless both for medical practitioners and patients. Stress can have a serious negative impact on your health and it’s not to be taken lightly. Meditation can help provide you with the perspective needed to better cope with daily stresses.

With the autumn months come myriad changes and its easy to get bogged down with all the details. It’s the perfect time to embrace the opportunity for self-examination to the balance in our lives we all need and deserve.

Book now a reference for the Canadian Virtual Hospice

I just thought I would let you know that my book Dying in the Land of Enchantment has now been posted as a Tools for Practice with the Canadian Virtual Hospice.

You can read about it here http://bit.ly/P5QVQa

I have been using the Canadian Virtual Hospice as a reference for my colleagues and patients so it is quite an honour to have my book mentioned on their site.

Thanks to them for acknowledging my book!

What are you waiting for?

I spoke last week about the locum I spent this past month in Sarnia, and briefly mentioned how much I really like the opportunity to ‘slow things down’ by working in a smaller city. The reason why I find it so valuable is that I always walk away from these opportunities with a wealth of new experiences and lessons.

Upon spying my wedding ring, one of the patients in palliative care asked me my age and whether my partner and I had any children. When I answered ‘no’, and that I was 37, she quite bluntly asked me, “Well what are you waiting for? Get to it!”

I know we often hear these kinds of things from friends and family on a regular basis, but it’s easy for us to ignore it, or nod politely and just move the conversation on. But these comments become all the more poignant when you’re working in palliative care. Many out there are under the misapprehension that palliative care is just about easing suffering for the elderly at the end of their lives.

What they forget is how many, what we would consider ‘young’ people are found there as well. I am constantly reminded of how fleeting life can be, and how important it is to appreciate and celebrate that fact. And we do so through our deeds and actions. The most heart-breaking thing I encounter in my field is not when a life is lost—which of course is saddening—but when a patient is anguished over regrets they may have.

I have often said that palliative care is not so much about dying, as it is about living—about celebrating the life we’ve lived and those we have touched. Knowing that a life has been lived without regrets and to its fullest enables both the patient, and their loved ones, to approach the end with a certain amount of peace—peace that can be so critical to the grief process.

It may sound clichéd, but we all have a million reasons to put off doing something we want to do. Many of them may well be legitimate, and it serves no one to be bullied into making decisions we’re not ready to make. But in the end I think it boils down to this—if you or a loved one were reaching the end of your/their life, would you have any regrets?  I think the answer to that question serves as an invaluable life guide.

A working vacation?

One of the things I really love about my job is the opportunity to practice in new settings. I think it’s really important both personally and professionally to understand how different health care systems work, and to also understand how one community’s needs differ from other. I also really welcome the opportunity to meet new people and work with new staff in an entirely different setting. Change does the mind and body good.

Most recently, I filled in for a pair of married doctors in Sarnia. They often ask me to come out there when they go on vacation. It’s not exactly a hardship for me to do so, either, given that I’m given free range of their stunning home while I’m out there. They live on the outskirts of town, right by the beach—a truly idyllic setting to do some of that burn-out-busting I spoke of in my last post.

But beyond the obvious benefits of staying in such a lovely environment, I also relish the opportunity to practice in a small town. Working in a larger hospital, you are so often limited by bureaucratic red tape, and the vast array of responsibilities I have there often make it difficult to get in the kind of one-on-one time with patients that makes it so worth while.

Interacting with patients on a meaningful level is just so incredibly important to being the kind of doctor I want to be. As I’ve always said, so much about palliative care is about living—and if you don’t have the chance to truly connect with patients and their families, then I don’t think you’re going to be able to be the kind of practitioner you need to be in this field.

Getting the chance to slow things down a bit and be reminded of just what an impact my work can have on people is always a gift—even if I’m still technically ‘working’ while doing it!