Palliative care helps patients stay in control


ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — Don Johnson was in and out of the hospital for pneumonia so many times, the doctors knew him by name.

"They'd look at me and say, 'You again?'" he said.

There was a sort of clockwork to it: he'd be treated, discharged and then be back within weeks. But, despite so many hospital visits, no one ever figured out why Johnson kept getting sick.

It took Kathy Glass an hour and 45 minutes.

Through their discussion, Glass concluded Johnson was aspirating — bits of food and other things were going into his lungs.

"It was really just profound," said Johnson's wife, Kathy. "That's the only way I can describe it."

Glass, a nurse practitioner, coordinates the new Palliative Care center at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital. Johnson, one of the center's current 20-or-so patients, hasn't been hospitalized with pneumonia since he entered the program in September.

It's likely no one caught his aspiration before because Johnson's previous appointments were brief and less in-depth, Kathy Johnson told The Herald-Bulletin ( ).

"So many chronic (patients) have multiple diseases, multiple doctors," Glass said. "We help simplify. (We) help the patient understand not only on what the disease is, but what their treatment does and how it helps them."

Palliative care is specialized, focused treatment that helps alleviate symptoms, such as — in Johnson's case — pain, shortness of breath and fatigue.

It's holistic, teaming health care professionals to help chronic or serious disease patients and their loved ones understand symptoms and treatment, including teaching them how to cope with side effects, providing emotional support, improving communication and facilitating open discussion.

Palliative care is available at any time during illness, and doesn't depend on whether the condition is curable or if the patient is at the end of their life.

"The goal is for them to be in control of the disease, not to have the disease in control of them," Glass said.

The communication was particularly helpful for Johnson.

"We listened to them (Johnson and his wife) about their frustrations, and how he'd be in the hospital in the morning and leave feeling fine and then by afternoon he felt awful," Glass said.

Patients can talk for as long as they need, Glass said, which "builds trust, builds a relationship and helps them understand."

She said they also call patients regularly to check in.

Johnson still deals with other conditions, including asthma, emphysema, congestive heart failure and sensory neuropathy. But the palliative care has made it easier, Kathy Johnson said.

"They (Glass and the Palliative care team) spent as much time with us as we wanted," she said. "It wasn't just about figuring it (the problem) out, either. They really cared how he, how we, were doing."


Information from: The Herald Bulletin,

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