END OF LIFE |
December 05, 2009
Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 12/5/09
Stationed in: a military hospital in the U.S.
End of life, withdraw care, comfort measures -- whatever nice euphemism you want to use it all means the same. We are going to remove the breathing tube, disconnect the vent, turn off all the life sustaining medications and devices and allow you to die.
Twice in my last three shifts I have done that. With two separate patients and two different families. The strange thing is I don’t remember the faces of my patients. I remember the families, the encouraging words I said, and the arms I opened to hug the grieving. But I don’t recall the faces of those I cared for. Is there something wrong with that?
I asked my significant other that question. He’s far away fighting a war and I see his face and hear his voice on my computer screen thanks to webcam and video conferencing. I tried to explain it’s not really the patients we are taking care of at that point, but rather the families, who now require all of our attention. I spoke of the drain on our psyches caused by engaging with so much emotional energy. He understood. He even said the same words at the same time as I did.
After my most recent patient died, I quietly tapped on the door in which a husband sat in sorrow. As I slowly entered the room I saw him standing at the bedside of his deceased wife combing her hair. “I’m not very good at this, but she always liked her hair to look pretty,” he told me. Wordlessly I walked to the other side of the bed, and with tears streaming down my face helped him comb her hair.
Then I left him alone with her and walking silently from the room found my coworker standing in the hallway. He came over, wrapped me in his arms and held me while I cried. “I’m glad it was you taking care of her today," he told me. I simply stood there, numb. As my day ended and I changed out of my scrubs in the locker room another nurse stopped to ask if I was okay. I nodded my head. “That family was lucky to have you as their nurse," she said. "You are so good at that.”
“That” being end of life care. I don’t want to be good at “that." It means I have done it far too often.