Palliative care is a delicate specialty. It balances somewhere between — and intertwined with — aggressive treatment of serious, often terminal, disease and end-of-life care. It’s concerned with patients living the rest of their life on their terms.
For Dr. Gary Garner, the complicated nature of the field is what drew him in.
“It seemed like a disenfranchised population,” he says. “You’ve got a serious disease that will alter the rest of your life. Here’s the treatment and I’ll see you in six months. There was nothing to catch those patients between treatments.”
What now? “I was a pharmacist before medical school. Because of that training and experience, I was asked to help with an AIDS clinic in my residency. The doctor didn’t want to be involved in it, but I fell in love with working with this population of advanced illness.”
Life lives “I’ll work with the patient and talk through treatments. We help them live their life with advanced illness on their terms. We talk about treatments, expected outcomes, desires and how they want to live. That process is the same whether the patient is a 35-year-old mother of five with breast cancer or the 78-year-old with a terminal disease. We talk about pain management. We want to help them live the rest of their lives to the fullest — whatever that means to them.”
Medical misconceptions “Palliative care is not hospice. It’s also not euthanasia. Palliative care is concerned with patient choice. It’s about helping the patient get what they want — and it can still be while receiving aggressive treatment.”
Crucial communication “Patients have different silos. There are doctors who are in one silo and concerned with treatments and managing symptoms. There’s family. There are a bunch of emotional silos. We get them together — in individual meetings — and help them communicate with each other. When a family member understands why a patient wants something, they are more likely to support them.”
Team approach “We have a great team of professionals including a chaplain, a social worker and others who are dedicated to what we’re doing. It’s a unique area of medicine, but we have team members who feel called to it.”
Doctor dos “I want a doctor who has a love of knowledge and empathy. They’ve got to have some experience and have seen some things. And they need to truly care about what they do to the point that they would do it for free.”