counter easy hit All the Roadrunning: November is National Hospice month

Monday, November 06, 2006

November is National Hospice month

With all the wedding plans successfully fulfilled and the honeymoon couple happily back in Colorado, it seems that life really does go on. We all go back to work and carry on our normal routines. I understand that most people don't consider my kind of work routine. As a Hospice nurse I attempt to embrace my work with a balance of compassion and healthy separation, yet on a daily basis these emotions are often not equally balanced. Understanding that ebb and flow is really the key.

Yesterday was one of those early November gifts in New England. It was a sunny, warm Sunday. The kind of day in late fall that gently introduces winter. We did some yard work, walked to the beach and came home to watch football by a crackling fire. I was on-call from 2pm to 8pm and expected it to be a quiet evening. Shortly after 2pm my first call came in. It was an elderly husband concerned that his wife was having trouble breathing. I knew I could not triage that call over the phone so off I went. Upon arrival, it was evident that the patient was in congestive heart failure and if she lasted the night it would be a difficult one. As I was explaining the medication schedule to the family, the patient, a devoted mother of three grown children and adored wife of 63 years, died. I always get a feeling that the patient knows... has a sense it was going to be a long night for her family.

Her husband cried and called her baby. He kept asking if I was sure she was gone. Imagine spending 63 years married to one woman? Imagine still loving her and now losing her? What does it feel like to know you will be alone now, without her ? That balance of compassion and healthy separation hits hard. I definitely can't help the tears. I'm handed some tissues, but there is a lot to do.

I have to call the funeral home, destroy the medications, fill out a pronouncement, notify the doctor. I have to have the exact time of death, correct date, and cause of death all accurate. Have to call the medical supply company, the home health aide department and put a voice mail on the report line. Have to chart a note in the computer. Have to make sure the family is supported and coping before I leave. So much to do.

It will be time to make dinner when I get home. It's OK. It really is. My kind of work does not need to be brought home in full each day. I simply appreciate the intimate privilege I have been given. The spiritual gift of knowing that I helped someone pass from this world to another. A grateful reminder that my family and loved ones are healthy and happy. The comfort and satisfaction of knowing that tomorrow will be another day of good work.


At 9:18 AM, Blogger Cynthia said...

I cannot tell you how much this has moved me. I know that I literally could not do this kind of work, but I can see and appreciate the honor, the privilege and the challenge it would be. I'm glad that people have you there to help them. God bless.

At 7:39 PM, Blogger Gannet Girl said...

What a gift you gave that woman and man. I used to do volunteer bereavment counseling for a hospice, and yet nothing I could say would convince my father and stepmother to seek out hospice care as she died from lung cancer until it was too late. (She died in March 05; there is a sprinkling of journal entries about it from October or November to March.) If only you could have been there her last night.

At 7:40 PM, Blogger Gannet Girl said...

In my old journal, Midlife Matters.

At 4:49 PM, Blogger Judith HeartSong said...

Dear Kathleen,

It's very nice to meet you and hear about the wonderful, necessary, tender work you do.

There are angels in this world.

Judith HeartSong

At 6:52 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I am so in awe of your work, and now I'm in awe of how you write about it.

At 5:52 PM, Blogger gigi said...

You have no idea how much this takes me back to the last night and day I spent with my mother. And over the course of the past year I have come to appreciate more fully how rare and yet essential it is to be supported by compassionate caregivers and staff. The ability to help someone pass from this world to another with serenity is truly a wonderful gift. I too am in awe of your work.


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