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‘I Thought She Was Going To Die Out Of Pure Fear’: A First-Hand Experience Of Palliative Care In Malta

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Following the publication of a story about the harrowing restrictions in place at the Palliative Care Unit (PCU) at Mater Dei, a number of people have spoken up about the harsh realities they have faced when their loved ones were admitted to this ward during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After months of battling a terminal illness and popping in and out of Mater Dei’s PCU, Annalise’s* mother passed away in hospital.

Not having your loved ones around at such a crucial moment is hard enough – but putting in the anxieties brought on by one’s impending death into the mix makes for a borderline nightmarish experience.

In the months prior to her death, Annalise’s mother suffered from Terminal Restlessness – a syndrome which occurs during the final days of a person’s life characterised by anxiety, agitation and cognitive decline.

“When I found out my mother was terminal, I put my mum in hospital; I took it that I was allowed to stay with her,” Annalise told Lovin Malta.

“Apparently the visitation times were 10am to 8pm – but no one ever told me that. So one time, at 8.45pm, a security guard approached me and asked me to leave.”

“I thought she was going to die out of pure fear when they asked me to leave.”

The thought of being left alone triggered Annalise’s mother’s Terminal Restlessness, which in turn resulted in her experiencing high levels of anxiety.

“At that point, they loaded her with morphine until she finally fell asleep,” Annalise recounted.

Eventually, Annalise’s visitation times were extended, thus allowing her to stay by her mother’s side until she fell asleep – but this still didn’t put Annalise’s mother’s mind at rest.

“She used to grab my hand so that she’d notice if I was leaving before she fell asleep,” Annalise said.

As time went on, restrictions eased even further, with new rules allowing two persons to visit a patient at one time. Having said that, Annalise said the only points where new visitors could enter were 8am and 8pm.

This meant that if one of the visitors could not stay the full 12 hours between 8am and 8pm and vice versa, the other visitor would still have to spend the rest of their visit alone with the patient.

“I spent a week crying alone in that room, so I asked my 80-year old aunt to come and visit her for a few minutes” Annalise continued.

“But if she came to see her for, say 10 minutes, the next visitor would have to wait until 8pm or 8am to replace her, meaning that I would still end up spending hours on end alone with her.”

“Eventually, she ended up dying without even seeing her sister.”

Whilst the given situation was certainly not favourable, the PCU was subjected to way stricter restrictions back in March.

“When COVID-19 restrictions were at an all-time high, my mother had gone into the PCU as a patient. Absolutely no visitors were allowed – my mother was a disaster” Annalise said.

“I understand that the rules were put in place because of COVID-19, but even some people from management didn’t agree with the restrictions. Whilst some staff members were hard on us, others went above and beyond their duties for us.”

*Name has been changed to ensure anonymity

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