Recent History – 2002
Jan. 25, 2002, By Mark Nielsen, Daily News Staff
As a head nurse working in an intensive care unit and in long-term care, Donalda Carson has been around her share of death.
The experience took an emotional toll that for years she could not explain.
“I would feel this hole in my chest and I never really knew what that was about,” she said.
In 1995 she became executive director of the Rotary Hospice House in Prince George — a home-like facility for terminally ill patients.
There, her answer to the problem was found.
“When you’re training to be a nurse, you’re taught to be a cool, aloof professional who does not get involved in your patients. If you do get involved with your patients, your peers think that your losing it, that your not a good nurse.
“I now know that that’s not the way it should be, particularly when people are dying.
“They need you to be caring. They need you to bring some of who you are to that bed-side and in that interaction with people, if you want to be compassionate, you have to take a stake in the relationship to be able to do that.
“And the joy and the fun that you get out of having a relationship with people that’s not just a professional thing is so much more satisfying.
“Now when people die in the hospice house I don’t feel that empty hole in my chest because I feel that they’ll know that I’ve helped make that dying experience better.”
About 35 people showed up at Dawson Creek and District Hospital on Thursday evening to take in Carson’s presentation on the hospice house — with the intention of bringing a similar home to Dawson Creek.
With the help of a slide show, Carson displayed some of the features of the five-bed facility — the biggest one being that it’s not a hospital.
There are none of the noises, smells and interruptions associated with a hospital. There are no “wall gadgets” like buzzers, and little if any medical equipment. There are no visiting hours; friends, relatives and even pets can stay 24 hours a day. And there’s an emphasis on privacy.
There are “guests” not “patients.”
Not to criticize hospitals too much, said Carson, but deaths there are considered failures. In contrast, the emphasis in a hospice house is on a successful dying experience.
Spouses, family and friends are involved in key ways. They are used to help staff get a feel for the character of the guest and help provide an attention to detail even down to making sure the guests favourite foods are in stock — one man in Prince George spent his last days eating nothing but apple pie.
South Peace Hospice Palliative Care Society co-ordinator Lynda Lafleur would like a hospice established in Dawson Creek within the next five years. Two beds at the hospital are set aside for palliative care, but currently there are six people there who would qualify for the beds.
Carson recommends public-private partnerships, in which a private company builds the facility and the government pays for the operating costs.
About half the funding for the Prince George hospice comes from the provincial government. Carson said it should be 70 or 80 per cent because even though it costs $400 per bed per day to operate it’s still much cheaper than a hospital at $1,000 per bed each day.
Most important, Carson said, the quality of life has improved in Prince George since the house was opened.
“We are so valued by the community. I have never experienced such high regard by the public in my life.”