Sometimes the little things make the most significant difference, especially when a person is at the end of their life.
Unless you’ve experienced hospice care first-hand, it may be hard to imagine how much the bedside care delivered by a hospice nurse means to a patient and the family. “It takes a special kind of person to be a hospice nurse” is a common statement made when speaking of the selfless devotion, love, and compassion required by anyone who works in hospice care.
To shed some light on a hospice nurse’s vital role at the end of life, we sat down with Barb, who began her nursing career in 1974 at St. Charles. An empath, Barb found her calling in hospice after recognizing that she could feel what a patient was feeling and could help them.
“Nursing is the easy part,” said Barb. “It is more about being there and letting people know they have support. If they are scared, they can say it, and we will help however we can. We always hope that when we go into a home, our presence is impactful for the patient and their family.”
Hospice Nurses Make Time Count
Some people are in hospice for an extended time, and some for a very short period. Hospice nurses put their heart and soul into whatever time they have to spend with every one of their patients. Unlike years ago, hospice is not a place where you are left alone to die.
“It is a very personal and intimate process at the end of life because the patient needs to have all of their needs met,” said Barb. “This can be hard for people to wrap their heads around, so we let families know that it is okay and that we are here to do anything we can to help, whether that’s answering questions or providing time for them to step away from their caregiving duties for a while.”
Being able to come in (as a nurse) when it is most needed and do the things that not even the patient knows will help, makes all the difference. Barb tells a story of a patient who passed recently.
“I knew a patient of mine was dying, and instead of going into the office first, I headed to their home and bathed him so his family could see him in the best possible light. He passed away about two hours after I left. His family told me that they were able to get pictures of him and them. Families look back and remember how a person looked. Taking the time to help in such a simple way allowed the family to feel better about the process. And looking back, they will see their loved one in a better state.”
A Day in the Life of a Hospice Nurse
A typical day for a hospice nurse can vary. Some days are busier than others. The start of a visit begins with a basic check of vitals. Bed-bound patients receive bathing and other forms of hands-on care. The mission is to stay until all patient needs are met. And often, those needs extend to the patient’s family members, so a hospice nurse sits with them to talk.
“Unless they have experienced death, they don’t understand the process,” said Barb. “And while the process can change based on the individual, it is not like what they’ve seen in the movies.”
A significant hole forms in a person’s life when that moment of passing happens. A family member’s fears and feelings aren’t returning to normal even though the patient has relief from pain and suffering. That’s why Hospice of Redmond offers bereavement support.
“If someone is at the very end of life and will likely pass within hours, I will stay at the house until they take their last breath,” said Barb. “I do this because I know things happen at the time of death that can be scary and disconcerting for the family. I am here to help by being a calm voice, helping them understand what they will see and hear, which can make a huge difference for families.”
Thriving on Hospice
Hospice is available to anyone in need after all the curative treatments and medical procedures are stopped. Hospice truly is about quality of life. Many people on hospice thrive, and some go off hospice care entirely. The hospice team of nurses, social workers, chaplains, volunteers, and other support workers provide specialized care when it matters most. Intended for terminally ill people with six months or less to live; if you know someone who could benefit from hospice care, contact Hospice of Redmond to learn more about the support available.