Palliative Care in the Time of COVID

“As we take stock of masks, gloves, and ventilators, we must also be ready to dig deep into our reserves of patience, communication, and compassion.”

Nathan A. Gray, MDAround the country, hospitals are either feeling the opening barrage of a horrifying pandemic or rapidly scrambling to prepare for an onslaught in their own backyard. Every possible niche of healthcare is bracing for the likelihood of a deluge to come. You might wonder what palliative care specialists have to do amid the rising toll of this viral pandemic... After all, this is the realm of ER doctors, ICU's, and infectious disease experts, right?Palliative care specialists are used to guiding people through frightening health landscapes, but this pandemic poses a level of uncertainty that most of us have not known in our lifetime... and threatens many of our most fragile patients.This pandemic means that we will be drawn into countless conversations with families who are suddenly having to make difficult decisions about life and death. It means that we may be helping deliver awful news that someone's mother, father, sibling or spouse is not going to survive. If this outbreak gets as bad here as it has in many other countries, there will be more of these conversations than our small teams can handle.This pandemic also means that many of these hard conversations will be had behind the dehumanizing veil of plastic gowns and respirator masks. Some of these awful moments will have to happen over phone when families are not able, or not allowed, to be present at the hospital.In the midst of an outbreak, there are people who will die in relative isolation from their family and friends. For those of us who have built our careers around the idea that people should be able to find peace, meaning, and connection in their last days, that prospect is gut-wrenching.For us, this pandemic means being ready to support our hard-working colleagues as they face risks to their own health on top of the emotional toll that overstrained resources, death, and tough conversations can bring to us all. I have heard many doctors and nurses from various specialties wonder aloud whether some of us will be asked to call on our rusty critical care skills if needs exceed supply... but hearing stories from China and Europe, I also worry about how many providers may be required to call on their palliative skills when our resources run short.If the spread of virus continues unchecked in our own communities, we will ALL be taking part in hard conversations, managing distressing symptoms in the last days, and stepping forward to support the grief of our patients and coworkers alike. As we take stock of masks, gloves, and ventilators, we must also be ready to dig deep into our reserves of patience, communication, and compassion.

16 thoughts on “Palliative Care in the Time of COVID

  1. My wonderful &speacial Daughter is A palliative care Speacialist!! I can only listen as A MoM but wish I could help my daughter like we always want to help there kids no matter the age❤️ The Front Lines. Thought I would never say those words with my daughters. Her husband. “ Front Lines”. Er Doc. They have two small children & 1 on the way. Please Pray & Keep Gena&Liam in your Blessings. So Proud of You Both. Love Always MoM♥️💗♥️


  2. Not being in the ICU at this time… I do not know at which point is “enough”…
    I have always worked with Oncology and End of Life patients and families… having said that I support these heard decisions health care providers must make. Thank you


  3. My daughter is a consultant in palliative care. She is passionate about her work and I know she will give her all to whatever challenges will face her. To say I’m proud of her is an understatement. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to every NHS worker. We couldn’t do this without you.


  4. Our daughter, Jennifer is also in this field. Has had such love and compassion serving the Veterans of our country who have come back from battle. Now she is facing the battle against this horrible enemy and not running from it but towards it. May Our Father God protect our health care providers and first responders with His outstretched arm.


  5. great content and graphics but can you change the text to make it more readible for people with partial visual impairment please


    1. Thank you for that suggestion. I have added the text of the captions in each frame from the article to the “alt text” for each image. (This should allow it to be read by ‘text to voice’ applications.) It’s not a perfect solution, but hope that it helps!!!


  6. I saw this when you first posted it. It was my introduction to your work. Rereading it now, it reminds me of what I have to do every day, to step back and breathe and care for the patients and those also caring for the patients. Thank you.


    1. Thanks so much for the kind feedback! I had hoped this piece would not still be relevant 8 months late, but sadly we still find ourselves in the thick of it. Stay well.


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