Share those precious last minutes, they deserve it...
When the last breaths are taken, the nurse will be there, at the bedside, preparing the patient and family, for what comes next. While we can perform miracles, sometimes the greatest miracle of all is the trust and faith given to nurses by the patient and their family. Those final moments are where we do our greatest work.
"A ball had passed between my body and the right arm which supported him, cutting through the sleeve and passing through his chest from shoulder to shoulder. There was no more to be done for him and I left him to his rest. I have never mended that hole in my sleeve." - Clara Barton
Death is commonplace to me.
As a former ICU nurse and now acute care nurse practitioner, I dare say I have seen hundreds of people die. I consider it a sacred act to be there at the time of a patient's passing. Shared that precious moment with family, friends, or perhaps with just the patient themself. While not a religious man I consider death a part of life.
Acceptance of death is also a part of life.
I consider it one of the most important jobs to give acceptance to family and friends. And at times to the patients as well. At times there is no more that can be done for my patients but to allow them to rest. But what of those left behind?
The motorcycle accident victim was my first patient.
A young man, he had the world in the palm of his hand. A tragic accident stole him from his fiance, family, and his future. He would have changed the world. I'm sure of it. And despite that he died. In those last minutes in the ICU before he was wheeled to the operating room to take the organs that would change 7 other lives, I sat with his fiance and cried. 5 foot 10, 220 pounds I wept for a man I had never met. I felt the pain of his young fiance. Of the family they would never create. The memories they would never build. The arguments over toast and unmade beds and clothes left on the floor that they would never have.
It was there that I learned how we can make the passing easier for family and friends by being present, sharing the moments, Making a difference. In the end she thanked me with a hug and a smile, and I knew she would be ok.
Another day; another patient.
His family gathered around him in the dark ICU room. Afraid to touch him, they stood like statues staring at the monitor on the wall. Perplexed I walked in and asked them a question.
Would anyone like to hold his hand?
They looked at me as if I just shared the winning lotto numbers. We can do that, they asked?
Of course you can.
I lowered the side rail and his wife sat in a chair and grabbed his hand. I asked if anyone had a story to share. Something embarrassing would do. Something he would like to hear and laugh about in these final minutes.
Of course there was one.
By the time he passed, there was laughter, tears, and acceptance bellowing from the room. Some of it from me. This family shared their intimacy with me and it allowed them to let go. It also allowed the patient to know they would be ok without him and that he could finally move on.
Death seems such a taboo topic to many of the nurses I have met. I see so many nurses huddled outside the room, not wanting to bother the family, frustrated, angry, yet keeping those emotions bottled up inside. I believe this is a disservice to keep the emotion inside.
Loved ones need help accepting the horrific idea that their loved one is leaving them. Whether the patient is 20, 40, or 99 doesn't matter. They are leaving someone, somewhere, behind. And it's not fair. So who are we to make it harder for everyone to accept by not being there?
We are nurses.
We are the voice of the voiceless in the middle of the night.
I tell families all the time that death is just the next step. It's a process. And they should help their family member or friend get through it. Tell stories, hold hands, laugh, cry, sing, pray, tell jokes or horrible stories, in the room, in front of the patient.
Dying patients need to know their family is there, prepared for what comes next. That it's ok to move on. Patients need to know that the ones they are leaving behind will be ok.
The bullet hole in my sleeve is a badge worn with honor. It is a hole put there by the hundreds of death I've seen.
It reminds me that I have a small window to make a difference in those last hours. A small window of time to plant the first seeds of acceptance. Acceptance of finality, that tomorrow will still come, that life will go on for those left behind. I will never sew that hole closed because I dare not forget the power I have as a nurse. Of being the voice of my patients. Of making a difference. I dare you to do the same.Last edit by Joe V on Jan 11, '15
Jun 24, '12I have goosebumps EVERYWHERE after reading this story. You are an incredibly gifted nurse AND writer, my friend. I pray I'll have someone like you beside me when it's my time to take that final step into the great beyond. :heartbeatJun 25, '12Thank you. What a gift, first, what you do for your patents and second, what you've given us by sharing this!Jun 25, '12I second getting goosebumps reading this! Amazing talent with words, beautifully expressed. You are a gift with a gift!Jun 26, '12What a wonderful, touching article. Your patients are privileged to have you as a provider.Jun 26, '12Thank you for doing what you do. Your patients are blessed to have a nurse like you. Thank you for the inspiration.Jun 27, '12I also gave goosebumps and got a lil teared up. any patient is lucky to have you by their side. what a wonderfully written article as well. as a nursing student, this gives me inspiration. thank you.Jun 27, '12Excellent article and so very true. We try to 'save' patients who are so tired of being saved, they just want to rest...Jun 28, '12I also got goosebumps! Beautiful article- I'm going to keep this in mind at work from now on- I always WANT to be a comfort to the family, but am afraid I'll say the wrong thing and make it worse. Which doesn't make sense because how could I possibly make things worse??
Thank you for thisJul 2, '12This was awesome! I felt you (although I don't know you) from here! Thanks for sharing! :-)
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