Kids Pod is a podcast where kids get to ask adults the questions they really want to know! Recently Kids Pod reached out and spoke with Dr. James Jap about his role as the Medical Director at Tōtara Hospice and as a Palliative Medicine Specialist.
Q: What is a Palliative Care doctor?
A: A Palliative Care doctor looks after people who are really really sick, people with illnesses that can’t be cured. These illnesses lead to the person’s time left to live becoming much shorter, than for most people of a similar age. The illness can make them feel unwell and may make them feel like they are not their usual self. One of our jobs in palliative care is to try make the person feel more comfortable in order for them to be able to feel like themselves again.
Q: Is it weird being around people that are dying?
A: Working as a doctor you’ll have to look after dying people no matter which part of the hospital or clinic that you work in. When I started working as a doctor 21 years ago, at the start it did feel a bit weird talking to people who were dying as I felt I did not have much in common with dying people. It wasn’t long before I realised that our common link was that we are all people with families, friends and stories to tell, and that we are all humans. I found that if you think of patients as people then you can connect better with them and then it no longer felt weird. It became a privilege to spend time with people for whom time was running out and I’ve always made sure I don’t waste their precious time.
Q: Why do you wanna be a palliative care doctor if so many people die?
A: Death is going to happen to all of us at some stage, if you are alive at some stage, you will die. A dying person and their family may be going through a difficult time, they may be unwell and really stressed out. My job as a palliative care doctor is to try reduce the yucky feelings as much as possible and to decrease their stress in whatever way I can. This might be to do with things happening with their body, for example, pain or it could be to do with their inner feelings, for example fear, it could be to do with family stress or money stress or they may be asking why me? My job is to help them through this tough time, and I always try to calm things down for them as much as possible. As a palliative care doctor I’m not curing or fixing people, I am helping people out when they need it the most, and I get to provide care that can really make a difference.
Q: Has someone in your family died and you’ve tried to save them?
A: There’s actually been a number of deaths in my close family, over the past 12 years, including my Mum last year. Family members all had illnesses that could not be cured, other doctors, including me couldn’t save them. I did ask the other doctors to try and save my family members from suffering too much. I asked for palliative care teams to be involved in order to for my family to be kept comfortable, it was hard at times being a relative and a doctor as I didn’t want to interfere with the other doctors decisions but as a loved one I needed to speak up as I wanted my family members to be as comfortable as possible.