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Making the time remaining more meaningful
The dress code: flannel shirts and jeans.
What else would you expect to read on the invitation for the launch of the Paul Sugar Palliative Support Foundation next month?
The casual attire is an homage to the foundation's namesake, Dr. Paul Sugar, whose unofficial uniform, even when he's on duty treating patients at Lions Gate Hospital or the North Shore Hospice next door, is decidedly un-doctor-like.
The well-known doctor's other trademark — a grey ponytail that he's been sporting for more than two decades — makes him easy to spot when he briskly arrives at the hospital cafeteria on this fog-filled Monday afternoon to talk about the new foundation to help terminally ill patients who are in financial need.
Through the years, Sugar, 65, has witnessed too many cash-strapped patients who are fighting against time, fretting over financial issues when they should be focused on comfort, care and the support of family and friends.
Here's an example of why he has helped start the new foundation.
Last year Sugar treated a young woman with an aggressive terminal illness. She wanted her family, who live in the U.S., to visit her over Christmas. She was unable to work because of her sickness and her landlord wouldn't allow her family to stay with her, so she couldn't afford to accommodate them.
Through the foundation, Sugar wants small wishes like this to come true for patients in need.
He hopes to be able to offer travel expenses, accommodation, volunteer or nursing support or even medical supplies to help seriously ill, palliative and terminally ill patients.
The goal of the foundation is to raise $50,000 in the first year to help those in need.
For years, Sugar has been providing another kind of support to those patients.
Sugar's days are spent orbiting the palliative care ward and chemo clinic, over to the hospice and sometimes beyond when he makes house calls to treat patients.
His style of personal care and compassion have become legendary on the North Shore. Pick up the obit page, and you will regularly read praise from families and friends for the care he gave their loved ones.
"A lot of people are quite grateful," he says, almost reluctantly.
The doctor isn't big on formalities (nobody calls him doctor and, yes, today he's decked out in check flannel and faded denim) or accolades. He doesn't even mention the fact that this year he was awarded the Queen's Jubilee Medal for outstanding medical service in the field of palliative care and his dedication to the community for the past three decades or that in 2012 he was honoured as a VCH Health Care Hero and Provincial Health Care Hero.
When he sits down inside the hospital caf today, Sugar's smartphone immediately starts to ring — and doesn't stop.
"I make myself accessible to my patients," he explains, answering the call.
Even when he's away for a few days at his cabin in the Cariboo, like he was this past weekend, he keeps his cell on and routinely checks in with the hospital about his patients.
"There's probably a bed but you won't get a window seat," he says jokingly to one of his patients.
Seconds later, the phone rings again.
"Excuse me a sec," he says, picking up the phone. "Paul Sugar."
"What pharmacy do you go to," he asks.
His voice is soothing and he answers the patient's questions thoughtfully, scribbling notes on the back of his patient list.
Ironically, one of the greatest lessons he's learned from his job is to value time. But, the way that he goes above and beyond for his patients gives him very little time for himself.
"It takes a lot of time to do," he admits.
But he's not complaining.
Sugar explains that one of the biggest rewards is "to see a patient transition from a place of pain and desperation to one of comfort and calm."
"I think we all feel good when we can have a powerful, positive impact on someone who needs help. Seeing the genuine appreciation that patients and families feel for efforts, insight and guidance is very fulfilling."
Of course there are tough days, many of them.
One of the hardest parts of his job, he says, is "the loss of the candid, intimate and honest relationships that develop so quickly with palliative patients."
This weekend, for instance, he has to write three death certificates.
Still, his focus is on making his patients' time more meaningful, especially when they are facing a terminal illness.
Through the foundation, he hopes to make an even bigger difference.
As he notes, the volunteers at LGH play an equally valuable role in supporting and comforting palliative patients and their families and he wants the foundation to also support their tremendous efforts.
The official launch of the Paul Sugar Palliative Support Foundation takes place Nov. 3 from 4-8 p.m. at The Two Lions Public House (500-2601 Westview Drive). Sugar has agreed to lop off his trademark ponytail to raise funds for the foundation but the doc may just end up keeping his locks. You can make a pledge for him to "cut or keep" the hair at paulsugarfoundation.com.
"I'm not sure how the pony tail thing will go. I'm hoping not to cut it off but I will [cut it for a good cause]," he says.