For Dr. Louise Coulombe, her work is a privilege
By Danielle Milley, OMA’s Public Affairs Department
After time spent working in Africa and running a family practice in Ottawa, it was her patients who nudged Dr. Louise Coulombe into the area of medicine she’s spent the past 21 years.
The Ottawa physician has spent the past two decades of her career helping patients die at home as a palliative care physician.
“My patients said to me, ‘you better learn to take care of us at home because when we die we’re going to do it at home’,” she recalls. “My patients told me to do it and I tried. My patients said it was possible and they were right.”
Working out of community-based office, Dr. Coulombe provides 24/7 call to her patients. She’s cut back in recent years, but she still sees six to eight patients a day and responds to night calls every three or four days.
Knowing that retirement is nearing, she has created a resource to pass on to younger physicians.
“I’ve taken 20 years of what my patients have taught me and put it into a digest,” she says, adding it can also be used as a resource by families. “The reality is there will never be enough palliative care physicians; there will never be enough palliative care nurses; there will never be enough palliative care units. That’s why it’s important we teach patients and families so they can understand and participate fully in their care.”
The digest includes stories from her patients who have ranged from children to seniors and from all walks of life. Dr. Coulombe had a 16-year-old patient once who was afraid of dying because her biggest fear was that no one would remember her – that she hadn’t yet had time to leave her mark.
“I asked her if I could use her story (in the digest) to help other people and she just radiated,” she says.
It’s her patients who nudged her into this area and it’s her patients who have kept her going.
“It’s amazing,” she says. “People think this is sad, but what I do, essentially, is give people back control.”
For Dr. Coulombe, it has been a privilege to do the work she does.
“It’s a privilege to be allowed into people’s lives when their time is limited.”
This article originally appeared in our monthly e-newsletter, Spotlight on Health.
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Palliative care is the broad approach to providing comfort and dignity for patients and families who are living with, or at risk of developing, a life-threatening illness. It includes managing pain and other symptoms so patients are comfortable, and helping them to cope with loss and grief.
While most Ottawa-area patients have access to palliative care at home, access differs greatly across the province. In recent surveys of patients and caregivers in Ontario, most people say they would prefer to die at home, but most patients in Ontario who receive palliative care die in hospital.