I have said for a long time that I didn’t choose hospice, hospice chose me. I had been drawn to helping people at the end of life, beginning when I was working as a CNA and taking nursing classes. Anytime I would see a patient in need during their final days, I had an urge to fill that need.
I had actually been working in Pediatrics when a friend encouraged me to apply for the position with Blessing Hospice & Palliative Care. Working with children as their lives were just beginning was very satisfying, but helping people at the end of their journey in this world is even more rewarding.
Hospice care is for people who have a prognosis of six months or less of life left. Choosing hospice care is a very personal decision, and some people make that decision earlier in their illness than others. Sometimes, we’re meeting our patients when they only have a few days of life left. When that happens, my focus is very task orientated: managing their pain, meeting their immediate needs, and educating their caregivers on what to expect in the coming hours and days. Education is a crucial aspect of what I do, because I want caregivers and loved ones to feel prepared and confident in the care I am providing and that they are providing when I’m not there.
There tends to be a public perception that the average hospice patient is completely bedridden and sleeping a lot, wearing oxygen and unable to communicate. I would like to help change that perception because that scenario is the exception, and not the rule. I would also like to encourage people to learn more about hospice care and how our level of care can add quality of life to a patient’s remaining days. My coworkers and I want our patients’ lives to be enriched in the final months and days. We want to relieve them of their pain, shortness of breath, spiritual distress or whatever it is that is affecting their quality of life. We want to give them the opportunity to live out the remainder of their days as they choose, without the burden of uncontrolled symptoms or extensive tests or repeated trips to the doctor/ hospital.
All of my patients touch my life in some way, regardless of the amount of time I get to spend with them. However, when I have a patient who has months of life left versus days, I have much more opportunity to get to know him or her. I feel that it is one of life’s luxuries for me to spend time with those patients and hear their favorite stories and memories. I get to observe precious interactions with friends and family, and I learn a lot about the kind of day the patient is having by observing changes in his or her mannerisms and non-verbal cues.
I had a patient recently who was very ill, but her death was not imminent when we first met. She was a retired nurse who was an avid reader that liked to keep up with current nursing practices. She and I had conversations about how things have changed and the way the she was taught compared to how we practice nursing now. I rarely have patients who are unhappy to see me, but this particular patient was always genuinely happy that I was there to check on her and visit with her. Although she has now gone on to her heavenly home, I still think of her fondly and frequently. When I reflect on the things that we talked about and the stories she shared with me, I know that I wasn’t simply the nurse assigned to her: she most certainly was sent to me!
After Blessing Hospice & Palliative Care is invited into a patient’s life and home, we focus on building trusting relationships quickly. Once we’ve established that rapport, patients begin to relax and open up about a lot of different aspects of their life. It may be a present day situation or a long ago story of heartache or a happy memory. It is a true privilege that people who are facing the end of their life’s journey share themselves with me, during happiness or grief. I have laughed with patients, cried with families, wiped away tears, and sat silently at many besides. My patients have loved me, and I them. When they hug me and tell me thank you, it is the best feeling. I may not have the most glamorous job, and it will certainly not make me rich, but my heart is full and that reward is immeasurable.