Giving patients ‘the gift of honesty’

Thinking of others.

It is that time of year when our thoughts, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, orientation, sickness or health, turn toward what is, what has been and what shall be. At some level we are inevitably driven to search for the perfect gift. Whether that is for a child, spouse, sibling or ourselves. The idyllic gift being that which captures the essence of whomever we are gifting. A gift that touches the soul, spirit and truths of the recipient – what life means at its most fundamental level.

As a physician, husband, father, man and human, the essence of this is the gift of honesty. Such is that which empowers the recipient to know and feel one’s respect for them and their values. In turn, they experience the same toward you.

So, guided by the gift of honesty and having the privilege, albeit difficult at times of recognizing and sharing it, I offer words which describe the journey we are all on. That each day of this journey may bring us closer to ourselves and to each other is the true meaning and value of honesty.

I am a palliative care physician. Daily I am asked to define and describe what exactly that is – palliative care. Simply put, palliative care/palliative medicine is the practice of meeting people where they are at, giving the gift of honesty. It is combining the science and art of medicine to look at the forest through the trees. It is taking the time with the patient to put the puzzle together so that the patient can understand not only the specifics of his/her disease(s), but the complex inter-relationships of their diagnosis with respect to their values and goals.

If someone has not been informed of the range of possibilities of their given disease, they may be unaware of the realities of their disease(s) and of the power – or lack thereof, of the medical world they are faced with. How can we (physicians) know what is best for anyone if we are unaware as to their knowledge, beliefs, values, hopes, fears and desires with respect to their disease, their family, their faith, their meaning of life?

I offer, as a medical provider, that my time with patients should be about truth, about complete transparency, not about what we can do, but rather what we should do to meet the goals of our patients. Then and only then, will the patient be empowered to make choices about their illness, diagnosis and treatment alternatives, and will finally be able to see the “forest through the trees.”

Gone should be the days of the physician who hands a map of care to a patient. Instead we need to be held to our oath as physicians and navigate a path consistent with where a patient is at any given moment in their journey. We are obliged to engage with a broader sense of the human spectrum rather than our own. Only then can we be a profession that responds to the needs, concerns, hopes, fears and expectations of other human beings.

I began full-time practice in Fort Dodge with Trinity Regional Medical Center/UnityPoint Clinic in early 2012. The opportunity to develop a palliative care program that offers this level of service and engagement across all care settings – visiting patients in their homes, was unprecedented. No other organization in the country is emphasizing such continuity of care. As such, we are able to meet the needs of numerous individuals and their varying goals. And I’m pleased to announce the addition of Dr. David Jones to our Palliative Care Team. Dr. Jones will be joining the palliative care service beginning Jan. 1. He brings a rich history of service, dedication and honesty to our service with the desire of engaging with our community and supporting the goals and values of all. With Dr. Jones joining the team we will be able to expand the services we offer and engage with more patients.

The Trinity/UnityPoint Clinic Palliative Care Team serves the Fort Dodge area and surrounding counties. We respond to patient’s needs 24 hours a day. Engagement begins by individuals asking their primary care physician (or any other physician involved in their care) for a referral to the Trinity/UnityPoint Clinic Palliative Care Program. More information can be obtained by calling 574-8515.

Dr. Timothy Ihrig is medical director of palliative care at Trinity Regional Medical Center.