British Columbia

After 35 years, doctor says palliative care 'one of the most rewarding things I've done'

Dr. Paul Sugar has been providing palliative care for 35 years at Lions Gate Hospital. On Tuesday, he was honoured for his contributions by Vancouver Coastal Health.

'Diagnosed with ... terminal illness, they really want to have as much good time as they can'

Dr. Paul Sugar, who works at Lions Gate Hospital, was lauded for his work caring for people with serious and terminal illnesses by Vancouver Coastal Health. (paulsugarfoundation.com)

A West Vancouver leader in the field of palliative medicine is being honoured for 35 years of service.

Dr. Paul Sugar, who works at Lions Gate Hospital, was lauded for his work caring for people with serious and terminal illnesses by Vancouver Coastal Health.

"A lot of people say, 'how can you do that work?' and 'good for you for doing that, because it must be so hard,'" he told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

"But the fact is, I think it's one of the most rewarding things I've done in medicine.… To help navigate someone through the last days of their life, and the last months and even years, sometimes."

"The guidance is needed all throughout."

Listen to the full interview:

Resource challenges

Sugar says palliative care, like all aspects of medicine, faces challenges in terms of resources.

Hospitals tend to be well-equipped for end-of-life care, but there are shortcomings in the community and in home care.

"The community needs more support, it needs more funding for home care, home deaths, people who want to remain at home," he said. "That would be the biggest target for new funding."

To help change that, Sugar launched the non-profit Paul Sugar Palliative Support Foundation, which aims to connect dying people, their families and caregivers with emotional support and resources.

The society opened a palliative care support centre one year ago, "a one-stop shop for palliative care."

"They can get navigation, guidance, comfort, support, safety and all the non-medical needs of palliative care."

A fashion trendsetter?

Sugar says not much has changed in the field in the past 35 years. His duties are mostly about comforting and supporting people, and the medical side of the job takes up relatively little.

One major change in the field has been the legalization of doctor-assisted dying in Canada; however, he says very few of his clients have opted for that route.

"Most people, diagnosed with any kind of terminal illness, they really want to have as much good time as they can."

One thing that definitely hasn't changed in that time for Sugar: he always wears plaid shirts and jeans, an outfit that has become a bit of a trademark for him.

"There's a few more people [at the hospital] now who wear jeans," he said. "And plaid seems to be in fashion, now.… So I feel I've actually led this fashion, not followed it."

That's why a Tuesday event honouring Sugar at the Two Lions Public House in North Vancouver wasn't the formal affair usually planned for such a milestone.

Instead, attendees and dignitaries were encouraged to join Sugar by wearing plaid and denim themselves.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

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