Delving into the social sector, requires a set of demanding aptitudes. Social workers are expected to handle different situations – from extending a willing pair of ears, to getting reprimanded by patients and riled into family conflicts. What makes us human is the ability to empathize and give advice – and that’s what our care practitioners have dedicated their life towards. At the end of the day it’s about learning – to make human connections.
Meet Loretta Chan, Advance Care Planning Counsellor, Medical Social Service, Changi General Hospital. She facilitates the vital communication between patients and their families or loved ones about their medical conditions and preferences, to help the family be better prepared of the road ahead. She enjoys bridging conversations and understanding from people about what matters most to them.
Meet Charmaine Tay, Senior Medical Social Worker, Medical Social Service, Changi General Hospital. She’s heavily involved in the inpatient setting, in assisting patients with financial needs, care planning and motion support. The dynamic nature of her work, involves assisting doctors and therapists to evaluate the needs of patients amidst the myriad of challenges that comes along.
What does a life worth living to you look like?
Loretta: Having a job that I like and getting satisfaction from what I do in my career that is a life worth living to me. More importantly, knowing that I’ve made an impact in somebody’s life and having a good network of support from family and friends. There are a lot of things that we easily take for granted, such as the idea of simply heading out for a meal. You hear how patients often feel cooped up at home, especially when they want to go out but no longer has the means to do it.
Charmaine: Being happy with what you are doing is important; I feel lucky to be in a good space, family and loving relationships, with a job I find meaning in. I can wake up happily every day to face challenges at work, instead of dreading work. And that to me, is a life worth living.
What do you wish more people knew about Advance Care Planning(ACP)?
Loretta: People have different perspectives of ACP and may lack understanding about the topic, thinking that it’s only for the elderly. But in reality, ACP is applicable for everyone. For me, I feel that ACP is extremely relevant as I would have already told my family on what my decision would be, should an accident happen to me. There are some preconceived misconceptions, where people think that ACP is a way to discharge people out of the hospital. But at the end of the day, you are the one that gets to choose your own options. We usually do ACP based on referrals, where the doctor will only recommend it, when the patients are ready to talk about it.
Charmaine: If making everyday decisions mean a lot to you in life, from what to wear, to where to eat next or what movie to watch, then wouldn’t you want to control a more significant part of your life? Generally, people are afraid because some may be superstitious as there is a lot of unknown in death, religion aside. If we make our own decisions, we relieve the burden and fear of family and friends, while lessening the fear towards death.
“People think that dying is their own choice, but it not only affects us but the people who love us equally – such as our family and friends.” – Loretta
Loretta: People talk about afterlife only in religion, but it’s something that can’t be controlled. Rather than to rely on the unknown, I prefer to take charge of my own life. People think that dying is their own choice, but it also affect the people who love us equally – such as our family and friends.
If you mention (about dying) in advance, things will change for both you and your family as they become more reassured in the process. Healthcare is very common, yet it’s uncommon to talk about end of life and palliative care. When people don’t talk about palliative care, there tends to be a misconception of it, because they don’t understand the topic. They just have the concept that dying is very far away.
“The hardest decision always falls on the family and we understand that it’s always hard to persuade the family to let go – especially when it’s someone we love.” – Charmaine
Loretta: As an ACP Counsellor, I speak to the families of patients with chronic illnesses and other deteriorating diseases daily on their medical preferences, to help them be better prepared and ensure sufficient time is taken to evaluate their medical needs. Patients who know their condition well are more open to talking about it. The difficult part is talking to the family and getting them to accept the decisions.
Charmaine: It only becomes tricky when the patient has no idea about the right decision to make for himself or herself, or when they are no longer in the right frame of mind to decide. It is common to have differing opinions within the family on what the best decision will be, and that often results in conflicts and unwanted arguments.
It’s good to prepare for your death and know what exactly you want or don’t want. For some people, they want to be saved right till the very end no matter what happens. For myself, I’ll prefer to opt for comfort care as I don’t like pain. If I’m old and weak and if there’s still a choice for me to go through resuscitation or other procedures; I will refuse it as I believe it to be more of a hindrance as I hope to have a pain-free death. Thus it’s important for us to have the conversation with our family to understand what are their opinions and learn to accept and understand where they are coming from.
The Good Death seeks to transform the negative notion of death itself and is focused on promoting early planning for one’s end-of-life care, especially so for adults over the age of 50. Find out all about The Good Death, ACP and Palliative care here!