Peace and Comfort
Ritchie Family Contributes to UAB Palliative and Supportive Care
“We called her ‘bionic woman,’” says Christine Ritchie, M.D., director of palliative care at UAB, of her mother, Mary Seel. In September 2009, Seel died in the UAB Center for Palliative and Supportive Care that Ritchie heads.
Seel never hesitated to express her belief in the effectiveness of the medical discipline her daughter chose to pursue. She would proudly introduce Ritchie to her women’s groups by saying that palliative care—including the medications she took to manage pain—kept her living longer than she would have otherwise. She felt so passionately about it that she contributed a gift, along with Ritchie and her husband, Tim, to name a room in the palliative care unit at UAB. The David John Seel Room honors Seel’s late husband (Ritchie’s father), and it is where Seel received care before her passing.
|This plaque marks the room named in memory
of Ritchie’s father.
Instead of focusing on curing disease, the goal of palliative care is to reduce patient and family suffering of all types—physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. It is not limited to the end of life, and caregivers from many disciplines—nutrition, psychology, counseling, social work, nursing, medicine, art therapy, and music therapy, among others—are involved.
Often palliative care is provided on an outpatient basis, like Seel’s care for the liver cancer that she developed following a hepatitis B infection from one of her surgeries. Seel maintained her zest for life, but a week before her 84th birthday, she developed breathing problems and came to the UAB Palliative and Supportive Care unit.
Seel entered the unit because of an out-of-control symptom that proved unmanageable at home—a typical reason for inpatient care. Often those who come in for such reasons return home after treatment. The inpatient palliative care experience is very different from a hospital with visiting hours and no family focus. The palliative care team at UAB works to humanize the experience as much as possible.
At one point, “we had 15 people draped across the room,” Ritchie says of her mother’s last days, “including her dog, Mackie, a West Highland white terrier.” Grandchildren shared poems they had written. Some played music they had composed. “They were able to see dying in a way that was natural, peaceful,” Ritchie adds. “She showed them it was something not to be feared.”
The day before Seel’s birthday, guests came for her party. Ritchie says that although Seel was so weak that it was hard for her to speak, she would “light up. We did it for her, but we got the impression from many of the people that it was a gift for them as well.” Seel died the next day.
Ritchie says she had always felt proud of the care her team gives. “But to see my mother receive that care was very humbling,” she says. “I understood it at a deeper, heart level.”
Maintaining the Momentum / Winter 2011