Monday, September 3, 2012

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.


  1. There are those who specialise in hospice care and honestly, I don't know how they do it, though I'm glad there are people who do. When my father went into palliative care, he was the nurses' favourite patient,because he didn't know how to behave differently from usual; just after he was gone, I overheard two of them talking about him."Yes," said one,"he was my favourite too." Another told me,"Your father was a gentleman." It's not a job I would want. Good on them for being willing!

  2. Loved reading this. Hospice nurses indeed have a special job.

    Some patients truly work their way into your heart. I still remember a few -- and ones that I went to funeral for -- from more than 20 years ago.

    Care and cure are completely different. Nurses care even when the goal of curing has stopped.

  3. Jordyn,

    I just love you. Thank you for sharing your heart.


  4. My grandmother passed away in June of this year. She had Parkinson's and had been in hospice for a little over year before she died. The workers in the home were incredible to her and to our family. Several came to the funeral and one even got up to share some lovely stories about her. They also pitched in and purchased a beautiful cake for the family's private dinner afterwards. It had gorgeous pearl buttons and music notes because my grandmother would always sing to them. They were truly a blessing to my grandmother and to our family.

  5. Thanks Sue and Danielle for sharing your stories. I'm glad you had such awesome caregivers.

    Linda-- nice point about care versus cure.

    Becky-- right back atcha!

  6. Several of my family members have had Hospice care. The staff was warm and caring and were a comfort to the family members. Once the patients end of life arrives the services continue for those left behind as a nurse I have cared for many end of life patients and they truly showed me how to enjoy life. My thanks to them.

  7. Thanks you for caring and understanding the needs of the terminally ill.

    1. Than you Nicole for visit from my link. Glad you found Jordyn's site

  8. I can't imagine someone saying that hospice nurses don't care! We lost my mother last Christmas after a long battle and some weeks in hospice CARE. The doctors and nurses were wonderful---they CARED.
    bethelderton59 at gmail dot com

    1. Beth - thank you for visiting from my site. Glad you found Jordyn's site

  9. I lost my 92 y/o mother 4 years ago. It was still hard. She was in an Assisted Living home for several years and her health was really going down the last year. In/out of hospital & rehab. The last time in the hospital, we all knew was the near the end and she was placed under hospice. She was not transferred from the hospital 1) because there was no space in the local hospice home (which is wonderful) and 2) because she was too frail to move at that point. They took exceptional pallative care and were very loving to her.

  10. My grandmother had hospice care and they were amazing. We had the company that cared for her recommended to us and they not only treated her amazing, but the whole family amazingly. Hospice nurses are so brave to take on their vocation. I have so much respect for all of them. I know I could not do their job. It would be too heartbreaking...

  11. Jordyn, first off thank you for your time as a nurse. My Aunt, and two very close family friends are nurses. I have the utmost of respect for them. I also have a lot of respect for anyone who works in the field of Hospice. To care for someone at the end of their life, in my opinion, almost takes more effort than caring for them while they are truly living. A person facing death has a lot of questions, fears, and often immeasurable pain that sometimes can barely be managed, if at all. Being able to sit with them, calm them, comfort them, and just allow them to be ~ that to me is providing the best care possible. Thank you again.

  12. Wow, everyone! I'm so honored by your comments and thank you so much for being so willing to share your stories. I am so thankful my nursing brethen are taking such amazing care of so many families.