Dr. Robert Webb is a Renaissance man. He was even awarded the distinctive honor as a No’Ala Magazine Renaissance Award recipient for the area of Science and Medicine. Dr. Webb is an advocate for nurturing families through end of life care, and his influence has enabled the peace and harmony of many families in the Northwest AL, Shoals area. I have personal experience with him. He helped our family with my mom’s transition 4 years ago. He spoke TO her, and allowed her to express her wishes. He respected us and gave us what we needed to allow her to complete her circle with comfort.
Today, as Bereavement Coordinator for Hospice of the Shoals, I work with Dr. Webb. I have the privilege of witnessing his wealth of compassion for patients and his calm demeanor on a weekly basis. This week, I asked if he would do a short interview for Garden Spices, and in Dr. Webb fashion, he replied, “I’d be delighted to.” We commence:
How do we differ from other countries in our approach to end of life care?
Other countries have a much more widely dispersed and accepted palliative care program. Certainly, Canada and Britain are ahead of us, in that regard. There is still a lot of work to do in the USA. I don’t know about the rest of Western Europe, for example, but when you read the literature there is a lot of work going on, but there is in the USA too. We’re catching up.
Do you ever feel a conflict between your previous specialty of Family Medicine and your current Palliative Care specialty?
As I get older, I’m much more tuned to letting nature take it’s course and quit trying to micromanage health, which is what we do in this country, in particular. The more we try to micromanage health, the more suffering we end up causing or prolonging. Certainly, when I was in Family Practice, I did a lot of palliative approaches, but at the same time I didn’t focus on, “We don’t really need to do this, cause it’s not really going to be beneficial.”
This country has not done well with accepting death. We need to come to terms with this short time on earth, and families need to let go and accept it, and they have real difficulty doing that.
How does comfort care help with acceptance and healing for families?
When you read what is being published there are more and more families who are recognizing we need to have better approach to our health care, as we get older; that we need to stop doing things that focus on preserving an organ. By trying to preserve the organ, we end up killing the organism in a miserable way.
There was an article in the New York Times, three or four years ago, by a daughter of a man who had Alzheimer’s. Katy Butler was her name. The title of the article was: “What Broke My Father’s Heart.” The cardiologist intervened by putting in a pacemaker because he had an irregular heart rate. But then, that prolonged his dementia and allowed the dementia to progress and cause more misery, especially for the family and for him. So, what she was saying was “Hands off. Focus on comfort and a lot sooner, rather than too late.” That is what I am trying to do more and more, and I get weary because a lot of families just don’t want to do that for whatever the reason, whether it’s guilt or whether they just don’t want to be an orphan.
Is it also because they are listening to the patient?
Most patients say, “Leave me alone.” Most seniors I talk to, (there are some exceptions), but most seniors say, “I want to be comfortable. Why am I taking all of these pills? I don’t want to do all of this stuff.” So, they are forced into it, in a sense, because the kids say, “Daddy, you gotta take your pills. Dad, you gotta do this. We’re not ready to let you go yet. Dad, you can’t give up.” Well, Dad’s tired. He’s been here 80 odd years. He’s ready. So, we need to let go of him. So, they force feed Dad with a spoon, and Dad throws up, and Dad says, “OK, leave me alone. I’ll do it.”
So, it’s almost like as a society, we need to heal ourselves as it relates to the end of life and what it means.
That’s right. Very much so. Society has the real problem.
What does healing mean to you personally?
Learning to accept you cannot fix everybody. That’s the hard thing. Physicians are bad for this. “We can fix this.” Palliative care physicians are just as bad, because we can help you fix this end of life care issue, and we can’t always. Like the families (we discuss). The families have their own issues. We can’t always see that. There is a solution here, but they are not ready for it. So, the “Physician heal thyself” has to be willing to accept that. But we all have personal issues that you have to deal with, and sometimes that gets weary.
Do you find a way to let it go, relax?
I garden. I putter in the garden. I’m not a golfer; I get too frustrated golfing. So, I love to just putter around and fix things. I’m a do-it-yourselfer at home. That’s how I relax. And I do a little meditation, and I walk and read.
So, that’s how you stay so centered.
– Interviewed by, Vicki Goldston
Dr. Robert J. Webb, MD is Board Certified in both Family Medicine and in Palliative Medicine. He practices in Florence, AL where he is Medical Director of the Palliative Care (PC) Service at Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital, a 292-bed facility, with a four-bed Palliative Care Unit that opened in 2006. The Service achieved Joint Commission Certification in December, 2012—the only palliative care program in the State to be so certified.
He is also Medical Director of Glenwood HealthCare, a 120-bed rehab and long term care facility, which has its own Palliative Care program. And he is the Medical Director of Hospice of the Shoals, a not-for-profit hospice providing a community Palliative Care Service. He is a member of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, the American Academy of Family Practice, and the American and Alabama Medical Directors Associations.
Check complete article, What Broke My Father’s Heart by Butler, K. (June, 2010)
Dr Webb’s complete Bio on Comfort Care Choices