Social workers and their immense capacity to care

Social workers and their immense capacity to care

Two of our care partners share a story each about their work with social workers…

When one of our patients enrols on the Alignd Palliative Care Programme, we put together a multidisciplinary palliative care team, and including an oncology social worker is key. They are laser-focused on helping patients and their families. And it’s why, this World Social Work Day – and every day – we say thank you to the social workers who are, so often, the glue that holds it all together.

Two of our care partners share a story each about their work with social workers…

Nicole: “The social worker did not give up…”

I had a longstanding patient – Sarita* – with serious cancer, who lived outside the city, on a farm. She lived with her cousin, but they had a strained relationship and her family were not close by. When Sarita went for surgery to remove a part of her spine because the cancer had spread, she was doing well.

But then Sarita stopped responding to messages and calls, and eventually I reached out to one of our network social workers who I know sometimes works at the hospital where she had surgery. The social worker spoke to all the doctors to find out if they knew anything.

She discovered that Sarita had had complications post-surgery and wasn’t doing well. Due to family circumstances, the patient could not go home and the pain was so severe she spoke of death. This social worker visited almost every day, reasoned with the surgeons and tried to get the patient to a step-down facility or a hospice – Sarita couldn’t tolerate more treatment. But the hospital still spoke of more surgery.

The social worker did not give up. The hospital team eventually realised Sarita was pre-terminal, and the social worker organised for Sarita to have her a private room, made sure her pain was controlled, and called in a soul carer to speak with her.

The social worker shared a voice note with me from the soul carer saying that she intuitively started to sing to Sarita, only to find out that Sarita herself was a singer who had written songs about her fight against cancer. It was a beautiful moment.

Sarita died pain-free, and in peace, thanks to this incredible social worker and her immense capacity to care. She went over and above to make sure that Sarita died with dignity and peace. I fear for what would have happened without the support of this social worker. 

Nancy: “Often the social issues affects patients as much as the illness”

Martie* lives in Joburg with her husband, George. She is 60 years, and has serious cancer. She’s on the Alignd Palliative Care Programme, and started on the Ongoing Phase, and then moved into the Intensive Phase.

Martie was seeing a palliative care doctor, who included a social worker on the team when Martie’s adult daughter experienced a trauma which triggered her previous mental health issues. This put a huge amount of stress and anxiety on Martie and George.

Eventually, their daughter agreed to the social worker’s support.

Martie and George then discovered their daughter was not compliant with her treatment. This stress caused Martie to start smoking, and George took to drinking heavily.

After a few social worker sessions, they both agreed to stop smoking and drinking, and focus on Martie’s health.

By the end of last year, the family distress had settled, and Martie’s main complaint was pain. Her palliative care doctor prescribed pain meds which made a big difference. Martie was also concerned about the financial strain they were under that their daughter was about to lose her job.

The social worker extended her support for the family by meeting with the employer.

Most of December went by with the patient and her husband worrying about the

daughter’s job loss. From January this year to date, the patient and her family continue to receive psycho-social support and counselling from the social worker. 

The social worker has been so committed and dedicated to providing this support to Martie and her family, and her intervention has lessened her stress. This teaches me the importance of psychosocial support in palliative care. Often the social issues patients go through affect the patient more negatively than the illness itself. It also highlights the importance of the multidisciplinary team and how together they can provide holistic support to a patient and their families.

*Names have been changed

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