Monday, June 28, 2010
Twice a week, 93-year-old Dennis Milton gets in his car and makes the half hour drive from his home to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Well groomed and dressed in a neat suit, he’s already someone you want to say hello to. When you actually speak to the man, that’s when you get to love him.
Dennis lost his wife back in the eighties. As she lay ill, she made a dying wish that he find something to fill up the time he would now face alone. Dennis started volunteering and never looked back.
I met Dennis on a Thursday morning, before he made his regular trip to the palliative care floor. It’s a quiet unit where flowers and family photos adorn the windowsills. The average length of stay here is less than three weeks. Undeterred, Dennis and the 13 other palliative care volunteers come with stoic dedication to make sure every moment is as comfortable as possible for the patients and their families.
In a place where nothing is taken for granted, the meaning of seemingly simple gestures runs deep. These volunteers go room to room, holding hands, talking, listening. Chats about the weather, chats about the meaning of life. Anything goes. All volunteers here receive special training and are considered a valued part of the palliative care team.
I met with two other palliative care volunteers, Alma and Karen and followed them through the unit. They checked in with staff first to see where they could be the most useful, and then made their way to those rooms. Faces change quickly here, but the need for comfort in extraordinarily difficult times never does.
Dennis spends about two and a half hours on the unit, offering a hand, a shoulder and an ear before getting ready to go home. Having married again, his time is now filled up with more than just volunteering. Even so, he faithfully continues his work in palliative care. He says his late wife’s dying wish, has now become his personal commitment.
Learn more about volunteering.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Sitting around with some girlfriends last month, we started talking about the big 4-0. How could it be, the big birthday was right around the corner?! Meanwhile, our young children played on the living room floor around us, in a mess of crackers and building blocks. Welcome to the new face of motherhood!
I can’t think of one girlfriend I have who got pregnant before the age of 30 (myself included). And when it comes to babies, that earlier milestone of a birthday is actually considered “old”. The risk of complications really starts to rise after 35, as does the need for C-sections. Even so, everywhere you look across this great land, mothers are simply having babies later.
Sunnybrook is now caring for the oldest population of mothers in Ontario. Luckily, this hospital will be in a unique position on September 12 of this year, when the opening of the Women & Babies Program will allow for state-of-the-art mother and baby care.
Designed with input from women and families, it will be a beautiful space to welcome new life. It will also be equipped to handle the complications that often go hand in hand with having babies later.
To learn more about the program, click here
While I’m finished having babies, many of my aforementioned girlfriends are not. I guess we are fuelling a growing trend (even if that means hitting 40, and still picking a few Cheerios off the floor.) Here’s to new beginnings at Sunnybrook, and your family, at any age.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Most of us think it will never happen to us. But every year, about ten million Canadians end up in Emergency. It’s never fun. In addition to the illness or injury that brought you to the hospital, your whole routine of rest and diet can be seriously disrupted.
And that can lead to another serious health risk called delirium. Factors like fatigue and dehydration can trigger a state of confusion, or even aggression. The risk goes up with older age, and the longer you are in the hospital. And delirium is exactly what Sunnybrook’s emergency staff is trying to prevent.
Call it a strong dose of prevention. Through a novel training program developed here, called IPPOD, Sunnybrook staff has been trained to watch for the warning signs. That means everyone from the paramedics to the person admitting you, to the doctors and nurses caring for you along the way. Delirium is a serious health threat, but is also largely preventable with simple fixes. Drink something. Walk around. Common sense prevails, even at the worst of times.
Click here to read more about the IPPOD program, preventing delirium in the elderly.
Monday, June 7, 2010
There I was, arguably Canada’s worst gardener meeting with the countries most recognizable one. I met with Mark Cullen in the shade of one of the Veterans Centre’s many garden trees, and he looked right at home. As an author and broadcaster, Mark has spent decades in gardens, helping people hone their green thumbs. Now, this garden was helping his uncle, a resident of Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre, find peace and purpose. What goes around comes around!
Mark’s Uncle Tom, or Lawrence Cullen, has been at the Veterans Centre for just over a year. True to the Cullen name, he has also spent his life gardening. (This love affair started during the Second World War, where Uncle Tom helped tend the grounds of the prisoner camp he guarded). After the war, Uncle Tom enjoyed a nearly 40-year career at East York’s Parks and Recreation Department. But after losing his wife and developing dementia, Uncle Tom came to the Veterans Centre a year ago. Now, these Sunnybrook gardens have given him a renewed sense of purpose and pride.
Horticultural therapy is being used at the Veterans Centre as a way to enhance the treatment and care of patients living with dementia. Where patients may lose the ability to speak, reason and sequence, they seem not to lose their familiarity with nature. Gardening can also battle feelings of isolation, while reducing stress and aggression. After all, there is nothing more organic than planting a seed and watching it grow. Simple acts, big impact!
After spending a few hours with Mark and Uncle Tom, I left work feeling pretty inspired. On my way, I stopped by the gardening centre to pick up two cheery little flowerpots and a flower to go into each. Even if I’ve managed to kill more than my share of plants over the years, I would be remiss not to teach my own children the joys of nurturing new life from the ground up. Never too young, I say! And as I learned from Mark and Uncle Tom, never too old, either.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Deep breathe, hold, and release. Close your eyes and focus on the moment. Imagine if that’s all it took to lower your risk of developing a serious risk factor for heart attack and stroke?
It’s a question currently being addressed by a Sunnybrook study called HARMONY. Funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, the goal is to see if approaches like yoga and meditation can reduce your blood pressure. If you’re interested, researchers are currently recruiting patients.
HARMONY is one example of several hundred ongoing studies at Sunnybrook, testing everything from new imaging machines to novel drug treatments. Studies make the world of medicine go round, or at least evolve. You may have seen posters in the hospital or your doctor’s office, or even been asked directly by your healthcare provider to be part of a study. So what do you need to consider?
They are a way to get access to new medical approaches or devices. As well, you’ll get careful, regular medical attention. It’s been well documented that participants in clinical trials actually have better outcomes than those who don’t enroll; of course, they may be no better than regular care and sometimes may be worse. And there are always risks with new treatments.
What about pay? You’ll normally be compensated for things like transportation and parking, but not be paid for your participation. Every study is different, but is overseen by the Sunnybrook Research Ethics Board to make sure things are done properly.
You’re a good candidate for a study if you are flexible with your time, are committed to following a specific regimen, or are looking for alternative treatment options. Let’s face it. Most of us will never be in the position of discovering a lifesaving new drug, or ridding future generations of some horrific disease. But we can be part of the process that can make it happen.