A taste from the past

mixed race baker makes a cake. smash eggs

A taste from the past

Memories come in fanciful flavours for one palliative patient at Outram Community Hospital who reminiscences about old times through the taste of his self-made festive delicacy.

“I can’t wait to taste them,” said Mr Tan gleefully. He began to gently place filling in the centre of the mould followed by a spoonful of agar-agar on top.

Mr Tan and another patient from his ward at Outram Community Hospital (OCH) were preparing jelly mooncakes as part of their therapy. Although he was delighted with what was happening in the rehabilitation kitchen, Mr Tan was still showing some signs of anxiety. The delight on his face hides the scar of reality.

 “This could be my last Mid-Autumn Festival and I plan to enjoy it as much as I can,” said Mr Tan.

Connecting through food

Mr. Tan was suffering from metastatic descending colon cancer. Despite his ailing condition, Mr Tan was known as someone who was positive, amicable and caring towards everyone around him.

Always independent, even during his remaining days, he would strive to do his best at everything so that he would not be a burden to his family or those around him. But the most striking memory of Mr Tan was his charming smile, which he brought along wherever he went.

That was how the patients and staff at Outram Community Hospital (OCH) remember Mr Tan.

Like many other patients who suffered from colon cancer, Mr Tan had to follow a set of low-fibre diets, which restricted his choices of food.

The food-loving Mr Tan started pouring out his feelings to the care team about how he missed eating different types of food before he fell ill. He yearned to be healthy again, even for just one day, and expressed his wish to relive one of the happy moments from his past — celebrating the Mid-Autumn festival with his family.

He knew his days were numbered, and therefore would be very grateful if the care team could help to fulfil his last wish.

The multidisciplinary care team at OCH then decided to plan a special celebration for Mr Tan.

“Food is often seen as a major aspect of a person’s life experience and identity. Since Mr Tan missed celebrating the Mid-Autumn with his family, we got him to make jelly mooncakes which were safe for him to eat,” shared Tricia Ng, Senior Occupational Therapist at OCH.

Organising this initiative was no easy feat during the COVID-19 pandemic. To adhere to safety measures, the team could only conduct small group sessions of up to two patients at a time. The number of visitors to the ward were also restricted.

To make sure Mr Tan’s family didn’t miss out on the festivities, the care team took photos of the session and sent them over to the family members who couldn’t make it into the wards. While planning for the session, Tricia and her team learnt that many of their patients were very knowledgeable about cooking and were willing to share their different methods of preparing the jelly mooncakes.

“Thanks to everyone for suggesting many great ideas to make the celebration come to fruition!” said Tricia.

Making Last Wishes a Reality

When patients are near the end of their lives, it is important that they get their last wishes fulfilled so that they can leave with no regrets. The key is to do it as quickly as possible because patients’ days are numbered, which involves teamwork.

Teamwork is an essential component of palliative care. Patients’ needs are diverse and require everyone involved to provide adequate care.

As for the caregivers, Tricia would encourage them to have some ‘me time‘ to avoid burnout.

“I would also like them to know that the multidisciplinary team will be here to support them with resources, advices and necessary training so that they can cope better in taking care of their loved ones!” said Tricia.

Working hand in hand with everyone, including the caregivers, allowed for increased understanding of the patients to achieve their goals during their end-of-life for a dignified farewell.

Photo: Outram Community Hospital

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