Isn't it interesting that one of the first things we ask when we meet someone new is, "So, what do you do?" If we're honest with ourselves, we ask this to covertly measure that person's socioeconomic level, intelligence and zest for life and it does tend to be a pretty good barometer of those things. However, sometimes we meet someone whose occupation is, in our thinking, off the radar screen of normal.
For instance, I always find it amusing when someone asks that question of me because of the reaction I get. When I tell them I am a hospice RN, invariably they will physically recoil, take a step back and the comment is always the same"It takes a special person to be able to do that! I could never do something like that!" Then they begin digging to find out why on earth I would want to face such sad circumstances for a living. There are a myriad of reasons, some of which I will try to explain.
First of all, I am not particularly 'special' for attending to the needs of the dying and their families. I feel privileged to be welcomed into the homes and lives of my patients at such a private, intimate time in their lives. I am looked to as a guide to walk them through their dark days and to facilitate a comfortable, peaceful death with as little pain and anxiety as possible.
The families are the ones who are 'special' for being willing to take on the responsibility to give that loved one what they want most; to be home. By the time they are received as a hospice patient, they all know any further treatment of the illness is useless and they are so very weary of doctors and tests and needles and stressful hospital stays that they simply want to go home where we all feel safest and most comfortable.
In the beginning, the families are reeling from confusion and the horrible realization that this is the end for that loved one. Their emotions are raw and they grapple with anger, fear, guilt and helplessness without knowing what to do next. They just know they want to close ranks and shelter that patient from any more stress.
That is where hospice steps in. I won't go into the details of admitting them to our service except to say we provide that patient their own RN, home health aide, social worker and chaplain all under the supervision of one of our physicians. These people see the patient at least once a week to coordinate their care and to provide medical equipment, medications, financial assistance and emotional support as needed.
The family members are the actual day to day caretakers and have the comfort of knowing there is a nurse on call 24/7 to help them.
I step in to care for emergencies such as uncontrolled pain, nausea/vomiting, severe agitation, emotional support and education of the caretakers, dressing changes, accidental falls or injuries and a host of other issues. I also go to the homes when the patient has died to legally pronounce the time and date of death.
The reason people become nurses is because they are nurturers at heart. Unfortunately, in this age of drive thru medicine, sending hospital patients home well before they are ready so the insurance companies can save a few bucks, we nurses rarely have to time to do that which is programmed in our DNA--caretake.
I got weary of the hustle and stress of working in a hospital with too many patients and not enough help. This made me so irritable and stressed day to day that I dreaded going into work. Not good!
When my father was diagnosed with cancer we elected to bring him home on hospice. This was the first, up close look I ever had of this facet of nursing. They came in, took over, supplied us with everything we needed to care for Dad and hovered over our family with support and compassion.
I was blown away with their genuine caring and saw first-hand the incredible value of this service. In fact, it now grieves me that more people don't know about and take advantage of the help that is available to them at such a dark time in their lives.
After my father passed, I knew this was the type of nursing I was made for. I can now utilize my years of experience and sound nursing judgment as well as finally having the opportunity and time to show Christ's love and compassion to those who are hurting so much.
And yes, there are a lot of tears and hugs involved in this profession and I wouldn't have it any other way.
There is much more to tell about this awesome job. The next time you meet a hospice nurse, just remember that we are not all that 'special.' We have finally found our niche and can now fully exercise what true nursing is all about.
Donna Wasson is all of the following: Married. Mom. Hospice RN. Avid reader. Animal lover. Needing to spread the Gospel while there is still time.
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