A MESSAGE FROM MARYLENE
Over the years, many of you have shared with me your personal stories and your deep appreciation for the impact that Dr Sugar has had in your lives. I will now share my story with you.
My name is Marylene. I am a clinical pharmacist and have worked on the North Shore for the last 25 years. I first met Dr Sugar in 2000, while working as a pharmacy manager at the Safeway in Caulfeild.
In 2009, I completed my studies towards a doctorate in pharmacy and needed to do a practicum in a hospital setting to fulfill the requirements for graduation. After approaching the pharmacy departments of a number of hospitals and finding out that there were no openings for a practicum, I had to be creative, so I reached out to Paul Sugar for help. Paul very kindly arranged for me to spend a month with his colleague in internal medicine and he also offered me a practicum with him in palliative care for the next month. I vividly remember thinking “yikes, palliative care!” but out of desperation, I politely replied “thank you, that’s great”.
I spent 10 hours a day for 3 months, running around the hospital with Paul and closely observed how he interacted with his patients. After the first couple of days, I realized that in the last 20 years of my career, I had missed the true meaning of patient care and compassion. This was a life changing experience for me.
It took me a couple of years to define what at the time, I could only describe as “magic” that occurred when Dr Sugar entered a patient’s room. The patients had a sparkle in their eyes, a smile on their face and a sense of relief and comfort. These signs were consistent with every patient, no matter how seriously ill they were.
I observed and studied Dr Sugar’s approach and the remarkable impact that he has had on the lives and deaths of so many patients and their families.
It was obvious that Paul had time for his patients. He listened intently. He was present. He encouraged patients and allowed them to ask questions. He provided answers and information that they wanted and needed. He provided a balance between hope and reality. There was always humour between the difficult conversations. His focus was on the patient, but he always had time for the family as well – making everybody feel important at all times.
Behind all this, was a deep level of understanding of each person, their needs and wishes. The patient physician relationship was truly genuine, intimate and personal in nature.
And at the core, there was love, care, respect, honesty, trust and compassion.
Over the years that followed, I continued to work in the field of palliative care and at the North Shore Hospice. I further distilled Dr Sugar’s unique values and approach. I used my previous experience and knowledge as a health care professional to identify gaps in the healthcare system.
I noticed that people often found themselves adrift in the system, not knowing which way to turn.
The question “what do you need?” is rarely asked.
My observations and readings led to the following findings:
Patients need to be treated as living human beings – we need to look beyond the illness and see the person behind the illness.
Patients need to maintain hope
Patients need to express feelings and emotions .
Patients need to participate in decisions concerning their care
Patients need to be cared for by compassionate, sensitive, knowledgeable people
Patients need continuing medical care, even though the goals may change from cure to comfort goals.
Patients need to have all questions answered honestly and fully
Patients need to not die alone
Patients dealing with a serious illness need and want to feel safe, supported, cared for, respected and loved.
For all of us, our human journey begins at birth and ends at death – with both birth and death being probably the two most significant events in our life. The beginning and end of our lives are also the times when we are most vulnerable and depend on others to care for us.
Dying and death are unavoidable and a very significant part of our lives and of those around us…yet it is difficult to talk about illness, dying and death. In the face of their own or the illness of another, people are often unsure what to do, what to say or how to feel.
Death (and dying) is a public health issue and not just a medical issue.
Dealing with this phase of life extends beyond the hospitals and the medical professionals. It also involves dealing with relationship issues, existential issues, legal and financial issues and the emotional component associated with a serious illness.
Death impacts families and communities. We know that each death in Canada affects the immediate well-being of, on average, five other people.
I want to thank Dr Paul Sugar for sharing his vision, his insights and for the lessons he has taught me.
I want to thank the numerous patients and families who have shared their lives and deaths with me. I have been inspired by their love, their strength and their courage, their hopes and their dreams. I have learned from their weaknesses and their vulnerabilities, their anxieties and their fears, their losses and their challenges.
It was these enriching experiences that taught me about life, gave me insights about death and inspired me to create an innovative model of care for our community here on the North Shore – a model based largely on the values, focus and approach of Dr Paul Sugar as well as on the needs of our community.
And here I am today - honoured to be here as the co-founder, president and CEO of the Paul Sugar Palliative Support Foundation and the Palliative Support Centre