One more chemo or one too many? The increasing use of expensive cancer treatments close to the patient's death is often explained by oncologists' failure to communicate to patients how close to dying they are, implying that patients are often both ill-prepared and over-treated when they die. This article aims at interrogating the politically charged task of prognosticating. Drawing on an ethnographic study of conversations between oncologists and patients with metastatic lung cancer in a Danish oncology clinic, I show that oncologists utilize, rather than avoid, prognostication in their negotiations with patients about treatment withdrawal. The study informs the emerging sociology of prognosis in three ways: First, prognostication is not only about foreseeing and foretelling, but also about shaping the patient's process of dying. Second, oncologists prognosticate differently depending on the level of certainty about the patient's trajectory. To unfold these differences, the article provides a terminology that distinguishes between four 'modes of prognostication', namely hinting, informing, calibrating and organizing. Third, prognosticating can unfold over time through multiple consultations, emphasizing the relevance of adopting methodologies enabling the study of prognosticating over time.
In this paper we, twin sisters, present a joint autoethnographic account of providing end of life care for our mum who had terminal cancer. Using the theoretical framing of performance from Goffman's theory of Dramaturgy, we present the findings from a joint autoethnography, focusing on two key themes: performing emotion work and performing what we conceptualise as ‘dignity work’. This paper's contributions are twofold. First, conceptually, this paper offers an important contribution to literature concerned with the sociology of illness, by critically engaging with Goffman's notion of frontstage and backstage performance, applied to the context of home care provided by family carers. The second contribution of this paper is methodological; we promote the under-utilised approach of a joint autoethnography and argue for its usefulness in the context of end of life care. We contend that the process of writing this paper was emotionally challenging, yet arriving at the final paper, which serves as a legacy of our mum, was cathartic. We argue for the usefulness of written diaries as a backstage arena through which other informal carers can think through, and come to terms with, experiences of death and dying.
Background: Critical care physicians often have to make challenging decisions to withhold/withdraw life-sustaining treatments. As a result of society's increasingly cultural diversity such decision making often involves patients from ethnic minority groups, which might pose extra challenges.
Objective: To investigate withholding/withdrawing life-sustaining treatments with patients from ethnic minority groups and their families during critical care.
Design: Ethnographic fieldwork (observations, in-depth interviews and reading patients' medical files).
Setting/Subjects: Eighteen patients from ethnic minority groups, their relatives, physicians and nurses were studied in one intensive care unit of a multi-ethnic urban hospital (Belgium).
Results: During decision making physicians had a very central role. The contribution of patients and nurses was limited, while families' input was more noticeable. Decision making was hampered by communication difficulties between: (1) staff and relative(s), (2) relatives, and (3) patient and relative(s). Different approaches were used by physicians to overcome difficulties, which often reflected their tendency to control decision making, for example, stressing their central role. At times their approaches reflected their inability to align families' wishes with their own, for example, when making decisions without explicitly informing relatives.
Conclusions: Withholding/withdrawing life-sustaining treatments in a multi-ethnic critic care context has a number of alarming difficulties, such as how to take families' input correctly into account. It is important that decision making happens in a cultural sensitive way and with involvement tailored to patients' and relatives' needs and in close consultation with interprofessional health care workers/other services.
End-of-life decision-making is an important area of research, and few sociological studies have considered family grief in light of end-of-life decision-making in the hospital. Drawing on in-depth interviews with family members in the intensive care unit (ICU) during an end-of-life hospitalization and into their bereavement period up to six months after the death of the patient, this article examines bereaved family members' experiences of grief by examining three aspects from the end-of-life hospitalization and decision-making in the ICU that informed their subsequent bereavement experiences. First, this article explores how the process of advance care planning (ACP) shaped family experiences of grief, by demonstrating that even prior informal conversations around end-of-life care outside of having an advance directive in the hospital was beneficial for family members both during the hospitalization and afterwards in bereavement. Second, clinicians' compassionate caring for both patients and families through the "little things" or small gestures were important to families during the end-of-life hospitalization and afterwards in bereavement. Third, the transition time in the hospital before the patient's death facilitated family experiences of grief by providing a sense of support and meaning in bereavement. The findings have implications for clinicians who provide end-of-life care by highlighting salient aspects from the hospitalization that may shape family grief following the patient's death. Most importantly, the notion that ACP as a social process may be a "gift" to families during end-of-life decision-making and carry through into bereavement can serve as a motivator to engage patients in ACP.
District nurses are core providers of palliative care, yet little is known about the way that they provide care to people at home. This study aimed to investigate the role and practice of the district nurse in palliative care provision. This was an ethnographic study, with non-participant observation of district nurse-palliative care patient encounters, and post-observation interviews. District nurse teams from three geographical areas in northwest England participated. Data were analysed iteratively, facilitated by the use of NVivo, using techniques of constant comparison. Some 17 encounters were observed, with 23 post-observation interviews (11 with district nurses, 12 with patients/carers). Core themes were ‘planning for the future’ and ‘caring in the moment’. District nurses described how they provided and planned future care, but observations showed that this care focused on physical symptom management. District nurses engaged in friendly relationship building, which allows detailed management of symptomatology, but with little evidence of advance care planning.
Background: Family caregivers play an important role supporting their relatives with advanced progressive disease to live at home. There is limited research to understand family caregiver needs over time, particularly outside of high-income settings. The aim of this study was to explore family caregivers’ experiences of caring for a relative living with advanced progressive disease at home, and their perceptions of met and unmet care needs over time.
Methods: An ethnographic study comprising observations and interviews. A purposive sample of 10 family caregivers and 10 relatives was recruited within a rural area in the north of Portugal. Data were collected between 2014 and 16 using serial participant observations (n = 33) and in-depth interviews (n = 11). Thematic content analysis was used to analyse the data.
Results: Five overarching themes were yielded: (1) provision of care towards independence and prevention of complications; (2) perceived and (3) unknown caregiver needs; (4) caregivers’ physical and emotional impairments; and (5) balancing limited time. An imbalance towards any one of these aspects may lead to reduced capability and performance of the family caregiver, with increased risk of complications for their relative. However, with balance, family caregivers embraced their role over time.
Conclusions: These findings enhance understanding around the needs of family caregivers, which are optimally met when professionals and family caregivers work together with a collaborative approach over time. Patients and their families should be seen as equal partners. Family-focused care would enhance nursing practice in this context and this research can inform nursing training and educational programs.
Background: Despite 50 years of modern palliative care (PC), a misunderstanding of its purpose persists. The original message that PC is focused on total care, helping to live until the person dies, is being replaced and linked to feelings of fear, anxiety and death, instead of compassion, support or appropriate care. Society is still afraid to speak its name, and specialized units are identified as “places of death” as opposed to “places of life” meant to treat suffering. This issue is prohibitive to the implementation and development of PC policies worldwide. It is imperative to identify what message PC professionals are relaying to patients and other health care specialists and how that message may condition understandings of the right to access PC.
Methods: A qualitative study, employing focused ethnography and participant observation (PO) of the daily interaction of PC professionals with patients and family members in three different PC services. Two researchers independently conducted a thematic analysis, followed by member checking with participants.
Results: A total of 242 h of participant observation revealed the following messages sent by PC professionals in their daily interaction with patients and families: i) We are focused on your wellbeing; ii) You matter: we want to get to know you; iii) Your family is important to us.
Conclusion: The complexity of PC discourses contributes to the difficulty of identifying a clear universal message between PC professionals, patients and families. The PC professionals observed transmit a simple message focused on their actions rather than their identity, which may perpetuate some social/cultural misunderstandings of PC. It seems there is a common culture, based on the same values and attitudes, within the messages that PC professionals transmit to patients and their families. PC teams are characterised by their availability.
OBJECTIVE: At the end of life, the need for care increases. Yet, for structurally vulnerable populations (i.e., people experiencing homelessness and poverty, racism, criminalization of illicit drug use, stigma associated with mental health), access to care remains highly inaccessible. Emerging research suggests that enhancing access to palliative care for these populations requires moving care from traditional settings, such as the hospital, into community settings, like shelters and onto the street. Thus, inner-city workers (ICWs) (e.g., housing support and community outreach) have the potential to play pivotal roles in improving access to care by integrating a "palliative approach to care" in their work.
METHOD: Drawing upon observational field notes and interview data collected for a larger critical ethnographic study, this secondary thematic analysis examines ICWs' (n = 31) experiences providing care for dying clients and garners their perspectives regarding the constraints and facilitators that exist in successfully integrating a palliative approach to care in their work.
RESULTS: Findings reveal three themes: (1) Approaches, awareness, and training; (2) Workplace policies and filling in the gaps; and (3) Grief, bereavement, and access to supports. In brief, ICWs who draw upon harm reduction strategies strongly parallel palliative approaches to care, although more knowledge/training on palliative approaches was desired. In their continuous work with structurally vulnerable clients, ICWs have the opportunity to build trusting relationships, and over time, are able to identify those in need and assist in providing palliative support. However, despite death and dying is an everyday reality of ICWs, many described a lack of formal acknowledgement by employers and workplace support as limitations.
SIGNIFICANCE OF RESULTS: Findings contribute promising practices for enhancing equitable access to palliative care for society's most vulnerable populations by prioritizing front-line workers' perspectives on how best to integrate a palliative approach to care where structurally vulnerable populations live and die.
OBJECTIVE: Knowledge about how people make meaning in cancer, palliative, and end-of-life care is particularly lacking in Africa, yet it can provide insights into strategies for improving palliative care (PC). This study explored ways in which cancer patients, their families, and health care professionals (HCPs) construct meaning of their life-limiting illnesses and how this impact on provision and use of PC in a Nigerian hospital.
METHODS: This ethnographic study utilised participant observation, informal conversations during observation, and interviews to gather data from 39 participants, comprising service users and HCPs in a Nigerian hospital. Data were analysed using Spradley's framework for ethnographic data analysis.
RESULTS: Meaning-making in life-limiting illness was predominantly rooted in belief systems. Most patients and their families, including some HCPs, perceived that cancer was caused by the devil, mystical, or supernatural beings. They professed that these agents manifested in the form of either spiritual attacks or that wicked people in society used either poison or acted as witches/wizards to inflict cancer on someone. These beliefs contributed to either nonacceptance of, or late presentation for, PC by most of patients and their families, while some professionals depended on supernatural powers for divine intervention and tacitly supporting religious practices to achieve healing/cure.
CONCLUSIONS: Findings revealed that cultural and religious world views about life-limiting illnesses were used in decision-making process for PC. This, therefore, provided evidence that could improve the clinicians' cultural competence when providing PC to individuals of African descent, especially Nigerians, both in Nigerian societies and in foreign countries.
BACKGROUND: People experiencing structural vulnerability (e.g. homelessness, poverty, racism, criminalization of illicit drug use and mental health stigma) face significant barriers to accessing care at the end-of-life. 'Family' caregivers have the potential to play critical roles in providing care to these populations, yet little is known regarding 'who' caregivers are in this context and what their experiences may be.
AIM: To describe family caregiving in the context of structural vulnerability, to understand who these caregivers are, and the unique challenges, burdens and barriers they face.
DESIGN: Critical ethnography.
SETTING/PARTICIPANTS: Twenty-five family caregivers participated. Observational fieldnotes and semi-structured interviews were conducted in home, shelter, transitional housing, clinic, hospital, palliative care unit, community-based service centre and outdoor settings.
RESULTS: Family caregivers were found to be living within the constraints of structural vulnerability themselves, with almost half being street family or friends. The type of care provided varied greatly and included tasks associated with meeting the needs of basic survival (e.g. finding food and shelter). Thematic analysis revealed three core themes regarding experiences: Caregiving in the context of (1) poverty and substance use; (2) housing instability and (3) challenging relationships.
CONCLUSION: Findings offer novel insight into the experiences of family caregiving in the context of structural vulnerability. Engaging with family caregivers emerged as a missing and necessary palliative care practice, confirming the need to re-evaluate palliative care models and acknowledge issues of trust to create culturally relevant approaches for successful interventions. More research examining how 'family' is defined in this context is needed.
Purpose: Most people are familiar with the expression ‘laughter is the best medicine’. By enhancing cognitive flexibility and strengthening relationships, laughter can be considered a holistic care-approach. Yet, in medical oncology, especially the palliative phase, using humour can be considered inappropriate or taboo. We aimed to explore the acceptability and functions of humour and laughter in patients with prolonged incurable cancer.
Methods: This study was performed in a Dutch Comprehensive Cancer Centre. We included four short conversations with patients, eighteen in-depth patient-interviews and eleven observational fieldnotes in which humour was a major topic of the conversation. We further administered an online questionnaire to thirty-three oncology clinicians about their experiences with humour. Qualitative data were thematically analysed. We specifically distinguished between humour and laughter.
Results: Nearly all specialists reported using humour (97%), and all reported sometimes laughing during consultations; 83% experienced a positive effect of laughter. These results were in line with patients’ experiences: Patients noted that humour always stayed alive despite medical difficulties. Apart from this human aspect, patients also used humour to broach difficult topics and downplay challenges. Patients and specialists acknowledged that using humour is sometimes inappropriate, partly because they did not always share the same humour. Laughter, in contrast, was regarded as ‘lighter’ than humour, and could, accordingly, more easily be implemented. Specialists cautioned against patients using laughter to avoid broaching difficult topics.
Conclusion: Many conversations were full of laughter. Hierarchy as usually experienced between healthcare professionals and patients/relatives seemed to disappear when using laughter. If applied appropriately, adding shared laughter may help optimize shared decision-making.
Purpose: Tai Chi is increasingly being used as a complimentary therapy in hospice care to help patients self-manage multiple and complex health needs. However, currently there is limited understanding of Tai Chi from patients’ perspective, including what participation in this mindfulness based movement (MBM) exercise means to their experiences of living with an advanced, incurable disease. The purpose of this study was to explore outpatients’ lived experiences of hospice-based Tai Chi in relation to mindfulness.
Methods: 19 participants (15 females; 4 males, aged between 50 and 91 years old) with a range of advanced, incurable diseases (cancer, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension) who attended day therapy at a local hospice took part in Tai Chi sessions. Using a focused ethnographic approach, multi-methods including 17 semi-structured interviews (averaging 40 min), participant observations (equating to 200 h spent in the day therapy unit), and informal conversations were used to collect data over a 6 month period. Data was analysed using a thematic framework approach.
Results: Four main themes were constructed that demonstrated participants’ lived experiences of mindfulness during participation in hospice-based Tai Chi sessions. Main themes included: (1) mind-body respite; (2) being present with others; (3) tranquil and therapeutic atmosphere and; (4) physical limitations.
Conclusion: Tai Chi may be an important therapeutic strategy for helping patients with advanced, incurable disease experience mindfulness. The findings of this study support the use of MBM exercises such as Tai Chi as a non-pharmacological adjunct to conventional treatments within palliative care settings.
Gender inequality in the form of gender-based violence manifests throughout the course of women's lives but has a particularly unique impact at end of life. We sampled 26 patients and 14 caregivers for this qualitative critical ethnographic study. The study purpose was to describe the lived experience of female palliative care patients in rural Malawi and their caregivers. The specific aims were to (i) analyse physical, spiritual and mental health needs and (ii) guide best healthcare practice. The study was informed by feminist epistemology, which drew us to an analysis focused on how gender inequality and gender-based violence affect the care of those with terminal illness. In this article, based on our findings, we demonstrate how gender inequality manifests through the intersecting gendered vulnerabilities of patients and their caregivers in rural Malawi. The findings specifically provide insight into the gendered nature of care work and how the gendered life trajectories of both patients and caregivers intersect to impact the health and well-being of both groups. Our findings have implications on how palliative care can be scaled up in rural Malawi in support of women who are experiencing intimate partner violence at end of life, and the caregivers responsible for their well-being.
Dans les Andes, les humains partagent nourritures et boissons avec leurs morts et scellent un pacte de réciprocité où les morts assureront pluies et bonne chance aux vivants tandis que ces derniers s’engageront à les alimenter. On se demandera d’abord pourquoi offrir des dons physiques à des entités dépourvues de corporéité puis ce qui incite défunts et vivants à se dévorer mutuellement pendant la période du retour des morts, à la Toussaint. On verra que ce cannibalisme symbolique permet un transfert d’énergie vitale entre morts et vivants.
À la Toussaint, les populations amérindiennes du Mexique déposent des aliments et des boissons sur les tombes et les autels dressés dans les maisons, afin d’apporter un réconfort aux morts réputés être engagés dans un épuisant cheminement post-mortem. Quel sens attribuer à cette « vitalité » post-mortem ? Comment expliquer que des êtres, que l’on ne peut percevoir, puissent se mouvoir et consommer des aliments ? En s’appuyant sur les résultats d’une enquête ethnographique réalisée chez les Mixe de l’État de Oaxaca, cet article apporte des éléments de réponses à cette interrogation. En même temps que la mise au jour des conceptions relatives aux mécanismes physiologiques à l’œuvre chez les morts, l’enjeu est de déterminer quelles relations sociales les vivants établissent par l’intermédiaire de la nourriture et des boissons avec ces êtres au statut ambivalent à qui les familles doivent rendre hommage tout en maintenant une certaine distance.
BACKGROUND: People of Black and minority ethnic heritage are more likely to die receiving life supporting measures and less likely to die at home. End-of-life care decision making often involves adult children as advance care planning is uncommon in these communities. Physicians report family distress as being a major factor in continuing with futile care.
AIM: To develop a deeper understanding of the perspectives of elders of Black and minority ethnic heritage and their children, about end-of-life conversations that take place within the family, using a meta-ethnographic approach.
DESIGN: Systematic interpretive exploration using the process of meta-ethnography was utilised.
DATA SOURCES: CINAHL, MEDLINE, PubMed and PsycINFO databases were searched. Inclusion criteria included studies published between 2005 and 2019 and studies of conversations between ethnic minority elders and family about end-of-life care. Citation snowballing was used to ensure all appropriate references were identified. A total of 13 studies met the inclusion criteria and required quality level using Critical Appraisal Skills Programme.
RESULTS: The following four storylines were constructed: 'My family will carry out everything for me; it is trust'; 'No Mum, don't talk like that'; 'I leave it in God's hands'; and 'Who's going to look after us?' The synthesis reflected the dichotomous balance of trust and burden avoidance that characterises the perspectives of Black and minority ethnic elders to end-of-life care planning with their children.
This ethnographic study draws on the experiences of members of interdisciplinary care teams working with end-of-life care patients to identify strategies to improve quality of life through care practices. We surveyed 133 staff and volunteers (physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, social workers, chaplains, administrators, and volunteers) who provide end-of-life care to patients in both home and institutional settings for 4 organizations in 2 counties in Upstate New York. Survey responses were analyzed using qualitative content analysis. The results identified numerous strategies to enhance and safeguard quality of life for end-of-life care patients and their family members. These strategies can be categorized into 6 domains: organization philosophy and mission; organizational policies; caregivers' behaviors and practices; symptom management; facility design, operation and management; and patient, family member, and caregiver experience. The diverse list of identified strategies indicates that improving care to address the unique, complex, multilayered dimensions of quality of life at the end of life requires a multidisciplinary approach and consistency among care providers, including administration, clinical management, front-line caregivers, and support staff. When all of these strategies are used in harmony, care can truly be enhanced.
PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Qualitative research in the field of palliative care allows for a crucial study of the final stage of life from a social point of view and cultural perspective. This review evaluates the advantages and challenges of applying an ethnographic approach to palliative care research.
RECENT FINDINGS: Thirteen ethnographic articles on organization or quality of care, decision-making, delirium, death, and the process of dying, were reviewed. Most studies use interviews, participant observation, and field notes as their primary data collection techniques. In ethnographic research, cultural issues, relationships and interactions of a group, the meanings and perceptions of the participants, the communication process, and the use of language in a particular and natural context were analyzed. Data collection and information analysis took an average of 14 months in the included studies.
SUMMARY: The ethnographic method, applied with rigor, is valuable in the analysis of a real phenomenon if the particular context in which the study developed is well defined. With an ethnographic approach, researchers can uncover cultural nuances that evidence different realities.
OBJECTIVE: To analyze the constitution of homes and medical-social establishments as possible spaces for the end of life in Brazilian and French scenarios.
METHOD: An ethnographic study in homes and medical-social establishments carried out in Porto Alegre and Grenoble, between October 2014 and October 2016. Participants were six people with end-of-life cancer and four family caregivers. Data was submitted to cultural analysis.
RESULTS: We showed how the (re)configurations of the home space and the medical-social establishments occur to receive people at end-of-life stage by two categories: "They don't know where I live": the home as a space for the end of life and "They are good here, but in another way": care in medical-social settings.
CONCLUSIONS: The (re)definition of the space where we die takes place based on the culture, besides the social and economic conditions of the families to receive the person at the end of life. In both spaces, home and medical-social establishments, we found that sickness and the end of life are still cross-permeated and signified according to the knowledge of health, in such a way that it continues to medicalize death and the dying process, even outside the hospital.
Dans cette enquête ethnographique, l'auteure donne la parole aux détenus en fin de vie pour interroger l'expérience de la maladie grave et le sens de la punition. L'analyse du soin, de la mort et de la peine fondée sur des observations et des entretiens menés auprès des détenus et des professionnels de la surveillance et du soin font émerger deux dimensions fondamentales : l'espace et le temps.