Recently I cared for a patient who was told by her doctor that she had a few days to live. A big part of the focus of our nursing care is to mutually set a goal or two with our patients that they would like to achieve that day. Usually we set goals like the patient's pain will be rated at a tolerable level for them or the patient will ambulate in the halls a specific number of times. When we asked the patient her goal for the day she replied, "What's the point? I'm going to die anyway." Our hearts went out to the patient. How could we, as healthcare professionals, make her last days enjoyable and meaningful?
One of the nurses had the idea of bringing in a licensed professional to give the patient "spa treatments" like a manicure and massage. I thought this was a great idea, if we could have the funding to do so, as it would promote patient dignity, as she could know she went out of this world looking her best and feeling relaxed.
I had the thought that we might wheel her outside to the lovely garden at the hospital. It was a beautiful day outside that day, and probably the last really nice autumn day we have experienced. She could be amongst the flowers and hear the water gently running over the river rocks at the fountain in the middle of the garden. She could see the butterflies preparing to fly south for the winter and maybe even spot a hummingbird or two. Many years ago, as a new nurse, I had a terminally ill patient who we wheeled to the top of the parking garage to witness a huge rainbow after a storm in the days before she parted this earth, and I thought this lady might enjoy being out in nature for a bit of fresh air as well.
Have you ever found yourself in this situation? What things have you done to make your patients' passing from this life meaningful and dignified? Please feel free to leave a comment with things you have tried, or ideas that you would try given you had the time and resources. We can all learn from each other.
So many of my students want so badly to be a labor and delivery nurse and see babies taking their first breaths, as it is such a special time in a family's life. But what about being with patients who pass away? Is any less special? Different, maybe, but every bit as important.
For those of you who will be celebrating Thanksgiving, I wish you a happy holiday. For those of you who will be away from your families and working, I wish you a happy shift that passes quickly.
Take good care.