Because palliative care works directly with people who do not have long to live, many have this misconceived notion that atmosphere around it is morbid and gloomy.
However, Calvary Health Care Bethlehem have worked closely with the community to prove that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to caring for the terminally ill.
Over the past few years CHCB has hosted a number of High School immersion activities where students were invited to meet and discuss end of life issues with Palliative Care patients, volunteers and staff.
The first project resulted in a book titled “This Time and Place” featuring observations of patients, carers, staff and students.
Ariane Virgona and Tori de Lacy were two of the nine students who worked on the book, along with two teachers from their high school, Our Lady of Sion College in Box Hill.
The project involved going to Bethlehem Hospice in Caulfield, where they would liaise and spend time with many of the with patients and staff members and collect their stories.
“The book project started in 2010 and the worked on it together until it got published in 2012. It took 8 months alone to edit,” says Ariane.
“We saw different aspect of how the physiotherapist would work with this setting or the art therapist would work in this setting.”
“We interviewed a whole variety of people from patients to people who were actively involved in the care and treatment of these patients.”
The book,“ This Time and Place”, contains biographies of these people, along with letters – which could be written to themselves, to the students or even their own family members – to give people a deeper insight into who they were, what they could teach and their experiences in this process.
The focus of the project was to observe the process of how people dealt with death, dying and bereavement, “in a way that was really about celebrating life rather than preparing for death,” explained Ariane.
“I think because I had limited contact with the elderly in a nursing home setting – only my great grandmother and grandfather – I found it quite intimidating because I didn’t know what to expect or anything about aged or palliative care.
“It was an unknown world because it was very hard to relate to because we were at the start of our life and they were at the end of theirs”.
“I’d never really been in a hospital setting before,” admits Tori, “it was my first experience in a hospital and it wasn’t this negative awful place that everyone describes it as”.
“I always assumed palliative meant the person was dying ‘next week’, but it’s actually not.”
“I feel like palliative care is just as much about making a plan about what you want and how you want to live out the last part of your life as it’s actually happening.”
“Bethlehem make it so much a journey as opposed to instructing people that ‘you have to do this’, ‘you have to do that’. They really guide you through it, and they really guided us through it.”
“It completely blew my mind that that was what palliative care was – it wasn’t people sitting in a hospice fading away”
“In those last days it is, but they try to make sure you’re comfortable and that the patient feels the love of the people around them”
“And that was the huge turning point in my perception – it’s not what I thought it was, and I’m glad it’s not what I thought it was”.
Tori now works for an aged care peak body, “Because we had been so involved with the hospital, I really felt that that was the direction I wanted to go in.”
Tori says she was very good at biology and science at school, and because of her passion for food she eventually found her calling in a Bachelor of Health Science and Master of Dietetics Practice at LaTrobe.
Last year, Tori graduated as a Dietician. Eventually she was offered a job at COTA Victoria as a research assistant, which eventually became advocacy and community engagement and continued on from them.
Tori will be finishing up her contract with COTA at the end of the month. “I’ve learned so much about how older people are wrongly portrayed in the media as burdens”.
“I honestly don’t believe I would be a dietician [if it wasn’t for Bethlehem], it completely changed what I wanted to do”.
“Bethlehem taught me that there is so much life to live in dying, there’s so much to offer in being older”.
“Those negative perceptions that we often have are wrong”.
“I like working with older people, I often find they have a little story to tell you. They appreciate your time so much.”
“You give them a lot, and often they give you just as much back.”
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