Dying with dignity: New EMS service helps sick Edmontonians spend their last hours at home

Categories: Care.

Still, the fiftysomething partners seemed determined to make up for any lost time.

From the moment they locked eyes on their very first date, it was like they had known each other forever. Myles would later tell friends that Rich was one of the most gorgeous men he had ever seen.

The relationship progressed quickly. Within a few months of meeting, Myles moved into Rich’s north side Edmonton bungalow. A short time after that, they were married.

“He was the guy who cleaned, I was the guy who made it dirty. When it came to shopping, it was pretty easy to convince ourselves to spend money,” Rich says. “We were both into our relationship so much.”

Things were so good that even Myles’s diagnosis of colorectal cancer seemed a minor blemish to their domestic bliss, in part because the initial treatment and surgery seemed to work. The couple put it out of their minds, focusing instead on more pleasant things like fixing up the garden, buying an old camper for road trips, and planning vacations to Paris.

The cancer had other ideas.

Late last year, Myles had to be taken to hospital in serious discomfort. What was initially thought to be a bowel obstruction turned out to be another tumour that was aggressively spreading to other organs. Doctors hit the couple with news that there was little more they could do.

“Myles was very quick to say he didn’t want to die in the hospital. I had sorta taken that for granted anyway, but as soon as he said it, I got it in my head about how this was going to work,” Rich says.

“What I needed to make sure was that he understood how committed I was … that he was at home to stay and that I was 100 per cent committed to that. But in those circumstances, you are always worried.”

Palliative care is an area of the health system rarely discussed in open company, yet it will affect almost everyone at some point in their lives. Increasingly, patients with terminal illnesses are opting to spend their final days at home rather than in a hospital or hospice. The Alberta health system has been forced to adapt, finding ways to support often overwhelmed caregivers like Rich and keep patients comfortable in their own beds — even when those patients’ health inevitably falls into distress.

As part of those efforts, a new initiative has been developed so that paramedics can be called on to stabilize patients at home rather than hauling them away in a noisy ambulance.

“In the past, if a palliative patient ran into unexpected difficulties at home — for example, if someone became short of breath or had a fall or went into a delirium — those patients would usually be transported on a 911 call to emergency,” says Dr. Ingrid De Kock, physician lead for the palliative community consult team in Edmonton.

“For some people, this would recur a few times. We felt there had to be a better way. We knew if we could prevent admission to emergency rooms for palliative patients at the end of their lives, we would do anything we could to achieve that.”

To view the full article, please visit the The Edmonton Journal.

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