Simple Compassion for the Dying: Lessons from Palliative Care Providers

Simple Compassion for the Dying: Lessons from Palliative Care Providers

by Yash Saboo March 27 2018, 4:51 pm Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 2 secs

Dr. M. R. Rajagopal, a leading advocate of palliative care, known as India’s “Father of Palliative Care” runs a Pallium India clinic in the capital of Kerala. “A 35-year-old man was dying of cancer with lots of tumours on his face and scalp. His family asked if I could help, and I couldn’t — I was just a medical student,” Dr. Rajagopal recalled. Today, the same neighbour with the same cancer would almost certainly die the same way — unless he lived in Kerala, (where Dr. Rajagopal runs his Pallium India clinic).

For those who are unaware, palliative care (according to World Health Organisation) is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems.


Source : Overlake Medical Center

Although opium was one of the chief exports of British India and the country still produces more for the legal morphine industry than any other country, few Indians benefit. They end up like millions of the world’s poor — spending their last days writhing in agony, wishing death would hurry.

About 1.6 million Indians endure cancer pain each year. Because of tobacco and betel nut chewing, India leads the world in the mouth and head tumours, and has high rates of lung, breast, and cervical cancer. Tens of thousands also die in pain from AIDS, burns or accidents. But only a tiny fraction — Dr. Rajagopal estimates 0.4 percent — get relief.

Hippocratic,” a documentary about the life of Dr. Rajagopal is now touring the United States where the attitude of pain relief has changed after the drug overdose epidemic. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, his chief message — and that of the film — is that the essence of care for the dying is simple compassion.

The 88-minute documentary “Hippocratic” is in theatres in the United States and Canada until April 17.

In another story, studies have found that in palliative care units, music helps ease pain and soothe anxiety.

Lucy Thomas, a Vancouver music therapist, has seen its physical benefits first hand in her palliative care patients. March is Music Therapy Month and Thomas told North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay that her goal when playing music to patients is to help them mentally escape the confines of their hospital rooms.

She plays violin and guitar to patients and describes the connection she creates with them through music as "magical."

"If someone's listening to music and it's really reaching them, then they're no longer focusing on any physical discomfort they might be in… They might be even feeling the vibrations of the sound through their bodies, which is very healing."

Thomas said that music can also help regulate breathing in patients with respiratory issues. In fact, there is a physiological phenomenon called entertainment, which she described as "the human body's ability to synchronize with the music in its surroundings."

During a session, Thomas asked her patients to select the music they want to hear, meaning she can be playing anything from Mozart to Metallica on any given day. "Especially in the hospital setting, patients often have no choice, no control. They're told when to eat, when to take their medications. This is something that they can choose."

The message of palliative care needs to be brought out to the world and we need more people like Dr. Rajagopal and Nancy Thomas to help the ones who are in pain.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.