A page from the Diary of a Hospice Nurse
This job is tough. Today was one of those days when I completely understand what people mean when they say, “I don’t know how you can do this job”. My answer is almost always the same, it is not an easy job but it is a job I was called to do and it fills my heart and soul on so many levels. And while I still feel this way every single day… some days are just harder than others.
When I got home tonight I crawled into my bed, covered my whole body (head included) with the covers and just hid there for awhile… until I couldn’t breathe and I came back out… but what I needed was a well deserved time-out… and I took it.
I walked in the door of a home that was filled with love, so much love, for a woman who was battling an illness that would soon end her life. I walk through these doors often; this is not new to me. This was a woman whose only wish was to not die in her home and the family was trying so hard to make sure her wish was honored. However, what they didn’t know, was that her time was far more limited than they knew and from my first glance, I felt it was only hours. This was a process that needed to be sped up…in a kind, gentle and subtle way.
I stayed with this family for several hours, collaborating by phone with our incredible team, trying to find a place for her to go that would offer her comfort, support and a room big enough for the entire family to gather and say goodbye. Place after place was called, with no bed availability, and with each “no” I heard, her time kept reducing. My heart was aching inside but I was not willing to give up and I prayed. I prayed and begged to the universe, God, Buddha and whomever else might be listening, that we please find a place that she could go. I wanted so badly for her wish to be honored.
Meanwhile, I watched as she rapidly declined and I could see her body was shutting down and symptoms needed to be managed. I administered a small amount of medication to calm the pain and restlessness and stepped back to allow the family to care for her. I felt a sense of urgency and panic but I kept saying, “everything is going to work out” as though I knew it to be true, without any proof whatsoever.
Four hours later a bed was found, in a private room big enough for their entire beautiful family. Transportation was arranged and I helped guide the family to prepare her to be moved. I offered to stay until she was picked up, which would be three more hours, but the family said they could handle the rest from there. I respected their wishes and I left.
An hour later I reached out to check in; she had increased agitation and the family was unsure of what to do. I calmed them over the phone, I advised on what to give her and I encouraged them to stay at her side, reassure her they were there, hold her hand and let her know how loved she is. This worked for about an hour. They called me back, the symptoms got worse… “what do we do”??? I again advised them over the phone, and stayed on the phone with them until she was once again calmed. This happened two more times, each time they did a beautiful job and some of her distress was relieved.
Five hours later, she was finally picked up and taken to her room. The staff got her cozy in the bed, the family gathered around her and she took her last breaths two hours later.
I received a text message from her daughter: “Thank you for all of your help, compassion, and guidance today, you really went above and beyond at this critical point and guided the family through this time.” I cried, and I cried and I cried. And my heart felt full.
Dear diary, today was a difficult and beautiful day. Sometimes I feel like my heart cannot take any more, that it is becoming too fragile to carry the pain and ache I see on a daily basis. It amazes me how strong humans are, on their very best and worst days. I see how strong I am and I feel thankful to have been blessed to have found this work, to be able to meet amazing people, to be reminded about the power of love and life, and to be able to offer some comfort to those suffering deeply. This matters to me. Yes, today was a hard day, but I feel like we did some really good work and I get to take that with me. I am reminded to take care of me too in this process, advice I am constantly giving others. I am reminded how truly blessed I am on so many levels. I think what I take from these moments most of all, is that it is okay to pull the covers over my head… as long as I remember to come back out and breathe.
Photo: My Niece made this rosary for me for Christmas one year. I carried it with me when I walked the Camino in Spain a few years back. It brought me such peace knowing it was in my pocket. This picture was taken along my walk.