Playful Palliative Care

Dr Matthew Doré – Palliative Care Consultant
Northern Ireland Hospice & Belfast Trust
Hon Sec of APM and Co-lead Clin ECHO

Photo of Matthew Doré wearing a blue t-shirt with Bluey character printed on the front.

Why is Bluey the greatest TV show you need to watch?

This is not just me saying this, IMTB (here) have consistently had it with the rating of 9.9 and is currently at number 15 TV show (not kids show) of ALL TIME! (here). It makes the news (here), there is an adult Bluey appreciation society (here) and has left social media ablaze with its season finale (here).

If you don’t know the story of the Heeler family – Mum (Chilli), Dad (Bandit) and Bluey and Bingo (the two daughters) have everyday adventures. They are cartoon dogs and act as both an example and insight into families everywhere. Make no mistake this is a show for adults as well as children showing us all how to do ‘family’.

If you haven’t seen it yet, it will make you cry and cheer and laugh and sometimes simultaneously. It is purely about the relationships in the context of various everyday scenarios.

My favourite is Bandit – he is the Dad – he will initially complain when asked to play a game, but then he commits to the game, and fully commit, often at the expense of his other responsibilities or indeed his personal respect. He does his best to teach his daughters lessons in the process, with very mixed results.

Why am I telling you this? How does this relate to palliative care?

Because ‘play’ is the heart of this show and I wonder if it should be more within palliative care. Play is about coping with circumstances together in an open and imaginative way and I wonder if play should be used and articulated more in our setting.

Indeed, we already often do this, but it would be deemed unprofessional to call it ‘play’. We play into our roles in a jovial way, depending upon the rapport, we tease and joke and even pretend together in possible scenarios in the future.

“I am wondering what we should do if…”

We suggest fun things, pizza nights, birthdays and weddings. We often have a crazy hospice alpaca, a hospice ukelele band or palliative horticulture. We often write poetry! What are these things if not playful?

I think with many of our patients we take a playful approach in communication as well, a familiar approach, sometimes a slightly cheeky approach, a friendly approach, a family approach. I think play is opening, it acknowledges roles but within a family ethos. It sends the message you are in my ‘family’, you are valuable.

But maybe I am ‘barking’ up the wrong tree, there is not a single article I could find on ‘play in palliative care’, please correct me if I am playfully just way of the mark, what do you think?

“I don’t understand, is the ending of the story happy or sad?” said Bluey “It is both” said teacher.

Declaration of interests

I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: None. I have no competing interests. I wish I had stocks and shares in Bluey, but alas I do not.

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