13 October 2018 is celebrated as World Hospice and Palliative Care Day. MONICA FERNANDES looks at the Romila Palliative Care Centre in Mumbai, and their laudable initiative to improve the quality of the lives of patients suffering from debilitating illnesses.
Palliative care is a holistic approach to medicine. ‘Palliative’ is derived from the Latin palliare which means ‘to cloak’. Just like a cloak protects the major portion of the wearer’s body, palliative care encompasses many aspects of an illness. Dame Cicely Saunders is said to have been the first person to propagate the humane concept of palliative care in the treatment of debilitating and end stage diseases. While treating a disease, medical care should also cater to a patient’s psychological, social and spiritual needs.
The Romila Palliative Care Centre (RPC) is an outpatient and home-based care facility started by Ashoka fellow, Dr Armida Fernandez, in 2017 in memory of her daughter Romila who tragically succumbed to cancer. RPC, located in Bandra West, Mumbai, is a part of the NGO SNEHA and is a haven of peace amidst the hustle and bustle of the busy Hill Road nearby. Its pastel-coloured furnishings are designed to lift up the spirits of patients suffering from cancer, Parkinson’s Disease and other debilitating illnesses. It provides free consultation and is efficiently run by two dedicated doctors, volunteer doctors, trained counsellors who provide counselling to patients, and caregivers, three nurses, and a host of trained volunteers including a dietician, an occupational therapist and a physiotherapist.
As per the need, doctors also visit a patient’s home and provide inputs to the patient’s caregivers and family members. Volunteers read to the patients and spend time with them in order to lift up their spirits. There is a monthly caregivers’ meeting where caregivers are motivated and their problems addressed.
Interacting with severely ill patients and their families could be a traumatic experience for caregivers who could themselves go into depression. The loss of independence is a blow to the ego of patients. Hence volunteers are required to attend a one week course conducted by Tata Memorial and arranged by RPC.
The camaraderie and support amongst the volunteers is amazing. As one of them messaged on Friendship Day: “We are friends for life.” For instance, when Rosanne felt low when one of her patients passed away, the others comforted her. There has been a gradual change of perception regarding palliative care not being necessarily an end-life option. Hence more patients are now visiting the centre.
Palliative care is stewardship in action where others take care of a person in need of help. The multiple care providers all play their part in ensuring that the patient gets a better quality of life till the very end. The care providers assist the family to accept their loss and move on. It is an essential service given the fact that with the increase in life expectancy, there is a corresponding increase in people suffering from debilitating illnesses. When I complimented Dr Armida and said that the success of the centre was due to the hard work put in by all those associated with the Centre, she said, “It is the bountiful blessings from God that have made my dream a reality.”
RPC welcomes committed young people based in Mumbai as volunteers. Contact RPC on 9029006333 or 7208006333 on Monday to Friday between 9 am to 5 pm and on Saturday between 9 am to 1 pm.
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