Do Nurses Ever Stop Caring? End of Life Issues…

There is nothing that distresses me more than watching a television show, seeing a movie or reading a book that says something akin to the following…”He’s going into hospice. They’re not going to care for him anymore.”

Honestly, boils my blood.

When I was in nursing school, I spent six weeks caring for a hospice patient. Our community health instructor first asked for volunteers. I remember her saying, “It’s for six weeks but he is expected to live several more months.”– implying that we wouldn’t have to deal with his death.

Let me first say no human can put an expiration date on you.

It came down to a lottery and my name was drawn.

He was in his mid 60s and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma– which is a type of bone cancer. I would visit he and his wife at their mobile home to make sure his needs were met. They had a feisty, young golden retriever that was one huge, butterball of energy that greeted me at the door every visit.

My non-care (yes– that is dripping with sarcasm) included pain management (helping the family choose a PCA pump, instructing them in how to use it, etc) and discussion of end of life issues. This includes a lot of talk about where you think you’re going to end up. Heavy, spiritual issues.

I was just twenty-one.

As we were talking one day, he said he’d really like to go up to the mountains. Unfortunately, he was bedridden. The previous summer, I spent a camping trip in Rocky Mountain National Forest and had some pictures.

I brought him this huge pile of photos. I said, “I’m really sorry you can’t go to the mountains but perhaps you could pick one of these photos and put it by your bed to help you visualize being there.”

And that’s just what he did. Took a red, push-pin and shoved one of those photos right into the wall.

A visit shortly after that and the normally exuberant golden retriever was inconsolable. He would not leave this gentleman’s side and in my heart I knew that was the last time I would ever see my patient alive. He died within a few days.

I went to the funeral, with some other members of my nursing class, and I still can hear the bagpipes play in that church and how my soul just ripped apart at the grief of his widow. He truly touched my life in those short few weeks I was with him.

After the funeral, my class went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. My fortune cookie said, “Your kindness to another will not be forgotten.”

I don’t know… call it what you will, but I think that was a God wink.

His wife gave me that picture back and told me how often she would find her husband just staring at it. I still have that photo and that fortune in a frame some twenty years later.

Please, do not make the mistake of EVER saying that medical personnel stop caring for patients when they have made the choice to forgo further lifesaving measures.

There is much care that is done, very humbling, straight-at-the-heart moments and hospice nurses are truly angels on this earth.

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