Traumatic trip shows need for palliative care hospice


Sir – I write in strong support of a stand-alone palliative care hospice in Alice Springs.
My 49-year-old husband became increasing unwell in August 2015 and was diagnosed with a disseminated, inoperable terminal cancer. He received excellent rapid medical treatment in Alice and then was swiftly taken to Darwin for palliative radiation at the Alan Walker Centre.
The domestic plane he travelled on that day was delayed and he was vomiting and in pain from sitting for a long time and becoming rapidly dehydrated.
When we arrived in Darwin I took him immediately to Royal Darwin Hospital where he was admitted for rehydration and assessment.
After prompt initial treatment in Emergency Department and some pain relief and anti emetics he was admitted to the Rehabilitation Ward as this was this was the only available bed.
In the next 24 hours his pain, nausea and vomiting were still not well controlled and he was distressed and tired. I too was exhausted from lack of sleep and constant advocating for better pain relief and nausea control.
There was no chair for me to sit near him and I contemplated putting a towel on the floor to rest and lie down. I personally attended to his hygiene including showering him and getting him ready for his treatments.
The nursing staff did not identify his immediate needs as adequate pain relief and nausea control and I had to search for staff to try and meet these rudimentary needs.
His medical results showed that he was close to liver failure and he was transferred to the palliative care unit.
Once we arrived there care started. His pain was adequately assessed by appropriate experts and controlled within hours.
His nausea medication was changed and was immediately controlled. My husband’s demeanor went from distress and lack of control to peaceful. He said he felt safe at last and calm.
He stayed there for about a week where he was able to have his brother from Canada stay with him. His condition improved so he was able to walk around and finish his radiation treatment.
His treatment at the Palliative Care Unit was specifically targeted for him. Without swift and expert staff he may not have survived that week as treatment of his disease was time critical and he was close to tipping point.
I tell this lengthy story as it is a clear example of why a specific palliative care hospice is vital for Alice. This week in the palliative care allowed my husband and I to come to terms with this life changing disease.
Expert care changed the likely outcome of his imminent death. Darwin Hospice was a place of tranquility. It was restorative for both of us and made us feel safe and in control.  My husband initially didn’t want to leave as he feared returning to Alice without this expert support.
Thijl’s treatment is effective for the short term but he will ultimately need this care once again. It would be fabulous if he could use the promised facility in Alice Springs that the Northern Territory has allocated funds for in 2015.
I ask that this stand-alone facility is built as promised and funded.
Kate Podger and Thijl Duvekot
Alice Springs


  1. Kate, thank you for taking the time to share your experience.
    Despite the great care Alice Springs hospital, it is not a substitute for specialized palliative care. We need a hospice here. It’s time.

  2. Thank you Kate and Thijl for sharing your story. I am sorry that you had to go through such a harrowing experience. Your story illustrates the very real need for a purpose-built, stand-alone hospice facility in Alice Springs
    In 2007-2008, I worked locally as a Palliative Care social worker, and am aware of the unique role a hospice has to play in end-of-life care.
    During my time with the palliative care team in Alice Springs, I spent a number of weeks at the purpose-built Darwin hospice. One of the defining features of a hospice is that it enables the specialised team of nurses, doctors, social workers and others to be co-located with patients who are requiring hospice care.
    The Darwin Hospice is, as Kate and Thijl say, a calm and reassuring environment. It was designed in consultation with a range of groups in the community. Each room opens out onto a private garden. It doesn’t look or feel like a hospital.
    Visitors are welcomed and offered support. The hospice is not co-located with another service, but instead it is able to develop its own unique environment, which is central to the care offered. The staff are a team of dedicated specialists.
    We have a Palliative Care team like this in Alice Springs. They do an amazing job, and provide specialised medical, social and emotional support to people out bush and in town.
    Why can’t Central Australia have a purpose-built hospice? We hear a lot about the extremely high local rates of chronic disease such as renal disease and cardiac disease. I would think that this community not only requires a purpose-built hospice, but deserves it.
    Let’s make Alice Springs a centre for excellence in palliative and hospice care, and dedicate a new facility solely for this!
    People in our community should not have to endure an experience like Kate and Thijl’s, but have confidence that they will be able to access this specialised service in Central Australia.

  3. Kate and Thijl, your story is not only moving, but indicative of what is needed in Alice Springs. It is a red light; it is urgent. Perhaps that finally Darwin will understand that Alice Springs is at the other end of the track, and consider the Centre as a region to be given strong support. Tennis courts are good, but palliative care is a must that has priority over other foolish expenditure.
    Kate and Thilj you are brave to share; thank you. My thoughts are with you along the hard road.

  4. The people of Alice Springs and surrounding areas deserve to have the option that this initiative would yield.
    Palliative care is a specialised service provided by specialised professionals dedicated to the life and best option choices of people who are at the end stage of their life journey. They provide compassionate and caring support to the person, support people and their loved ones.
    The people of Central Australia deserve equal opportunities as their Top End counterparts enjoy. Any investment in dollar terms is an investment in contributing to our collective humanity.
    Let it be.
    Phil Walcott
    Independent candidate for Braitling

  5. I was a patient in the alice springs hospital. They didn’t know what to do and gave me a number of medications like I was a guinea pig. After days in hospital I was then flown down to Adelaide and I was better in half a day or so. If you’re in pain hop on a plane.

  6. Thank you Kate and Thijl for your willingness to share your story and also to those who have responded in support of a Hospice for Alice Springs.
    Central Australia definitely needs a purpose built palliative care facility.
    Palliative Care NT has gathered over 1200 signatures in a petition to the NT Government, demonstrating the wide ranging support of the local community for a hospice in Alice Springs.
    Thank you to all those who signed the petition.
    We will keep you posted !
    Sandra Clyne
    President Palliative Care NT


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