back to top
Monday, May 20, 2024
9 C
Sydney

Devoted to the dying

Most read

Teresa Plane: the palliative care pioneer who is also a Catholic has been named NSW Senior Australian of the Year. Photo: NADC, Salty Dingo
Teresa Plane: the palliative care pioneer who is also a Catholic has been named NSW Senior Australian of the Year. Photo: NADC, Salty Dingo

For former nurse Teresa Plane, being awarded the NSW Senior Australian of the Year for 2023 is a God-given opportunity to promote her passion for palliative care.

The 90-year-old Sydney Catholic has been recognised as a pioneer of modern palliative care in Australia, and hopes to inspire many more nurses, doctors and volunteers to enter the “incredibly rewarding” field.

Driving home from work one night she heard an interview with visiting psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross discussing the five stages of dying, and Teresa realised she’d always been a death-denying nurse.

- Advertisement -

Only 29 at the time and in the “unique position” of owning a hospital in the newly-developed suburb of Seven Hills in Sydney’s west, Teresa travelled to England and Canada to learn from the pathfinders in modern palliative care methods overseas.

“I became an apostle and a real zealot for this concept of care which was about seeing people with life-limiting illness and their families and meeting their needs in a multi-disciplinary way,” Teresa said.

On returning she opened a hospice and palliative care unit at Mt Carmel Hospital in Western Sydney in 1978. She later established Macquarie Hospice, a home care and day care centre, and has promoted quality palliative care around the country and overseas.

Teresa suffered the death by car accident of her husband Carl Spencer, a palliative care doctor, and then 18 months later in 1991 the death of her 25-year-old son Andrew.

“Not everyone is able to die at home, and despite my desire to care for him at home Andrew had great difficulty with his pain control and he died at Sacred Heart Hospice which is still one of our premier palliative care units in New South Wales,” she said.

“I also want to encourage other people if they can just overcome their fear of death to be there at that moment with dying people.”

“People often said to me, ‘Why you?’ I had all the usual awful feelings and I just couldn’t talk to God, but then I thought ‘Why not me?’

“I’d been travelling around the country talking to people about grief and bereavement and what it’s like to care for someone who’s dying with knowledge that was largely academic.

“But when you live something then you can understand it. I was then able to look bereaved people the eye, or the family of a person who was dying, and while I could never say I know how you feel as every person’s experience of death and bereavement is unique, I could tell them I do understand.

“I always felt that somehow in the grand scheme of my life I was meant to live through that to be able to do the work that I did for so many years.”

Teresa is full of praise for the dedicated professionals including many religious sisters who helped to build palliative care in this country. While she “would not dictate to anybody else”, she would not opt for voluntary assisting dying.

She has sat with hundreds of people who are dying and has never seen what she calls a “horror death”.

“Something happens that I can’t explain or understand, something spiritual. I’ve always sat in absolute wonder of that moment, and I want to experience that,” she said.

“I also want to encourage other people if they can just overcome their fear of death to be there at that moment with dying people.

“Once an individual, be it a nurse or a carer, can break through the fear of death and reach out to connect with that person you can almost see how the physical is diminishing but the spiritual, regardless of whether they are a believer, you can see it shining through.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the awardees “passion and perseverance stand as a lighthouse to us all, inspiring us to make our own unique contributions to the betterment of our beloved country”.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -