Can I Get A Priest?

  1. 24

    Dying patient, family requesting spiritual care, after hours,no one answering calls, running out of time!

    Can I Get A Priest?

    The phone rang!

    I mentally cursed as I was in the middle of a narcotic count with the pharmacy who had come to drop off the narcotics for about 50 patients in the LTC I worked in.

    "Excuse me!" I told John, the patient pharmacy driver who had come to drop off the narcotics.

    "Good evening! This is Annie, the Nursing Supervisor. May I help you?"

    "Annie this is Bridget from the 5th floor. Can you come upstairs? Mr Watson is dying and his family is here."

    "Give me five minutes. I will be there."

    I quickly counted the narcotics and gave the signed slips to John who then left.I still needed to log the narcotics, call the floors and have the nurses come, sign and pick up their patient's narcotics.That would have to wait. I put all the narcotics in my drawer, locked it and locked my door and ran upstairs to the 5th floor.

    Bridget was waiting at the nurse's station. We walked slowly to the patient's room as she filled me in. Mr.Watson was on hospice care and wanted no extraordinary measures. He was also a DNR/DNI. We entered the room. His 2 daughters and their spouses and two grand daughters turned and looked at us. I quietly introduced myself and then focused on the patient. He lay with shallow breaths coming and his eyes closed, not responsive. His saturation was 90%, glucose level 130, pulse 50 and BP 70/50. I raised the head end of the bed 15 degrees and put him on oxygen and his oxygen saturation went up to 95%. One of his daughter's wanted to rush him to the hospital, was panicky and crying. I pulled her out and gently asked her what did daddy want. She calmed down and said he wanted to join her mother who had passed on a few years before. I asked her if she was comfortable with her daddy's decision. She said no but that she would honor it! She wiped her tears as I hugged her and escorted her back into the room.

    I asked his family that was standing around in silence what was his favorite thing to do and they told me music! I asked them to sing his favorite songs, get music on YouTube on their iPhone and surround him with music! The mood changed, the smiles came out and so did the iPhones. One of the daughter's started humming and the other's joined in! They had questions about how long it would take for him to die and I was very frank with them ! I told them that that was patient dependent, some lingered, some went fast and if they had anyone else that needed to come this was the time to call them. I asked them what was their spiritual belief and they told me that they were Baptist.

    They did not have any pastor's number to call. I told them that I would try the pastoral office on the off chance that someone was still there.The daughters perked up.

    "Can I get a priest? That would mean a lot to dad. He is very religious."I promised to try and get someone if possible. It was already 5.30pm and most people from the days had left.I told them that I would be back later to check on them and walked out the room with nurse.
    "What time do you think---?" she asked.

    "May be around 7pm." I felt that was when he would leave us.
    I asked her to call me if anything and went downstairs to Pastoral office which was closed. The on call priest did not answer the phone, so I left him a message.The chapel was right next door and I ran in and went on my knees before the lord.

    "Lord! Help me help this patient and his family. They need a priest. Where am I going to get one?"

    I got off my knees and walked down the chapel steps. On the other end of the hallway walking towards me with a long staff was an old priest and his Home Aide! I rubbed my eyes and looked again.No mirage!

    "Thank you lord for being a speedy Gonzales!"I mentally thanked him.

    "Father! Hi! I am Annie the nursing supervisor. How are you?"

    "I am fine". He stood tall 6'5" to my 5'2" holding what I privately called "The Moses stick from the ten commandments!".

    His companion Oscar smiled at me.
    Father Owens had his own private apartment in the LTC with 24 hr home attendant. The medical director was his PMD and he was the priest who had made this 750 bedded Catholic facility what it was today. Father also had dementia and was retired.

    "Father. I need your help."

    "Are you a nun?"

    "No father. I am the nursing supervisor Annie".

    "Am I in trouble? Am I sick?"

    "No father you are fine but can you help me?"

    "What do you need?"

    "One of my patient's is dying and needs a priest now. Can you come?"

    His demeanor changed. He stood taller, his eyes sharp and focused.

    "Yes! I can! Let's go!"He turned towards the elevator.

    "Father!Do you want to go to your room and get the prayer book and other things you may need?" I gently reminded him.

    "Yes! Yes"!

    Oscar took us to his apartment and father Owens got ready. He put his white stole and got holy water.

    We walked him slowly to the patient's room. The staff were slacked jawed as we walked past the nurses station. When we entered the patient's room the mood was electric, the grand daughters twirling amidst laughter ,smiling family and the patient's eyes were open as he took it all in!

    I introduced father to the family. He smiled, blessed them, sprinkled holy water on the patient, family and in the room. He then asked everyone to step out so that he could listen to the patient's last confession. I stood by the door as father Owens was shaky and a fall risk! I heard a faint murmur as they talked briefly and the patient closed his eyes.
    Father turned around and motioned that we could come back in. We all trooped in and father smiled at the daughters and said, "Congrats! You must be so proud!" The dementia was back!! I quickly whisked father out of the room while the puzzled family smiled and thanked us in a chorus! I took him back to his room, thanked him and left him in Oscar's capable hands! He was still insisting that I was a nun----!

    I went back to the office, logged the narcotics, called the nurses, got them to come and get their meds while dealing with sick calls, floor issues, hospital discharge, patient and family complaints, dietary issues, patient falls etc etc. At 6.50pm, I went upstairs and back to Mr Watson's room. His eyes was closed, his respiration's shallow but he looked peaceful. The room was crowded with relatives. At 7pm he was gone slipping from one world to another effortlessly fully prepared for the journey back home.I pronounced him and called his PMD and informed him.I hugged the thankful family and then went and finished up the paperwork.

    Later on driving home from work, I thought of the countless patients that end their journey on earth alone, afraid and unprepared surrounded by medical equipment and not family and friends.As nurses we can make a difference during their arrival, stay and departure from this earth.Go the extra mile and make that transition smooth , peaceful and meaningful. You have untapped resources at your disposal if you only think out of the box. You have been placed for a purpose and it is not for glory or fame but to serve with love. When you make a difference in a family's life you touch not just hearts but souls! That is the beauty of being a nurse! So let your light shine always!
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    About spotangel, BSN, MSN

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    23 Comments

  3. by   elkpark
    There was a delay in getting in touch with the on-call chaplain, and so you pressed into service a demented resident of the facility? Wow ... That is not how I would have dealt with the situation.
  4. by   tnbutterfly
    Thank you for being there to help create a peaceful death for the patient and the family. You indeed went "the extra mile and made that transition smooth, peaceful and meaningful."
    Last edit by tnbutterfly on May 1
  5. by   FutureHolisticRN
    This is beautiful! I look forward to joining this profession some day.
  6. by   3ringnursing
    I LOVED THIS STORY!

    You are right too - in my own experience transitioning from earth bound mortal to something other (whatever that other is) is frightening for most people. Doing so alone, away from the comfort and familiarity of one's own home? Up the fear factor exponentially. It takes very little to change the experience for a patient and their family (if they are there) but you practically pulled rabbits out of a hat in this case to make it the best it could be.

    And bless the good Padre's heart - he only slipped up at the end, but it sounds like it may have been glossed over. Thankfully he was in the right place at the right time to do the Lord's work and comfort a soul going home.

    Thanks for sharing this story.
  7. by   amoLucia
    Sorry to be a bit concerned but I whole-heartedly agree with PP elkpark. I realize that your intentions were well meant, but I'm sure there were other options. Never in a million years would I have even thought of your approach.

    The whole situation gives me concern. But the 'confession' thing is extremely disturbing to me

    And I think you criss-crossed Baptist with Catholic. I don't know how mutually exclusive the 2 religions are.

    I don't believe 'the ends justified the means' in this scenario. I think you stepped out of bounds with this one. JMHO.

    Like I said, I think you meant well ...
  8. by   spotangel
    All comments and concerns appreciated.
    To clarify-
    Father Owens was not a resident of the facility but stayed in his own suite on rooms in the facility.
    He had dementia but also large periods of time when he was very lucid and was oriented.
    The on call chaplain never called back and the next day when I contacted him has some kind of excuse as to why he did not respond.
    So when I was running out of time----I took the help I could get to help the dying patient and family.
    The family though Baptist was fine with a catholic priest and spiritual care was always an important to the patient.
    I did bring it up with my Chief Nursing Officer who thanked me and was fine with it.
    I do see you concern and we did put a stricter protocol in place moving forward for pastoral care priest/back up priest to avoid future issues!
  9. by   blondy2061h
    Finding a priest for last rights is always so hard. I have moved to cold calling churches in the area more than once.
  10. by   RobbiRN
    Yes, the correct term for a Baptist Clergy is Pastor, and yes, there was the breathless moment of "congrats." The on call clergy may have also produced a misstep had he been available. But so much of what happens surrounding the minutes of dying is above and beyond anything we say or do. We want God's intervention to be perfect according to our rules. Sometimes it takes an incomprehensible path. I love this story. Profound, beautiful and memorable. Thank you.
    Last edit by RobbiRN on May 1 : Reason: spelling
  11. by   CelticGoddess
    Quote from blondy2061h
    Finding a priest for last rights is always so hard. I have moved to cold calling churches in the area more than once.
    We have had to do that in the past. I had a co-worker call her own priest one time because she couldn't find another priest. He lived an hour away! He came though.
  12. by   amoLucia
    Quote from blondy2061h
    Finding a priest for last rights is always so hard. I have moved to cold calling churches in the area more than once.
    I did that also. That prob would have been my first approach. It was sometimes a real Herculean effort to get a priest for Last Rites. I found that Catholic priests were usually extremely helpful when such episodes arose.

    To OP - TY for the further information. Still, I can't agree with your tapping of Fr O because of his dementia, albeit intermittent. I feel better that he was NOT a facility PATIENT but more of a boarder (I had a resident like him in one of my workplaces).

    Addressing the needs of the pt and his family happened, but it was borne out of your need 'to do something'.

    The situation still does not sit comfortably with me, but I do appreciate your effort to try.
  13. by   VegGal
    Quote from spotangel
    All comments and concerns appreciated.
    To clarify-
    Father Owens was not a resident of the facility but stayed in his own suite on rooms in the facility.
    He had dementia but also large periods of time when he was very lucid and was oriented.
    The on call chaplain never called back and the next day when I contacted him has some kind of excuse as to why he did not respond.
    So when I was running out of time----I took the help I could get to help the dying patient and family.
    The family though Baptist was fine with a catholic priest and spiritual care was always an important to the patient.
    I did bring it up with my Chief Nursing Officer who thanked me and was fine with it.
    I do see you concern and we did put a stricter protocol in place moving forward for pastoral care priest/back up priest to avoid future issues!
    I completely agree with your way of looking at this. You know your "resident" the priest, and you knew the dying patient's wishes as well as those of the family. The thing to keep in mind, in my opinion, is that sometimes in instances like getting a priest or pastor in time is that it's not a legal issue, but more of what would make the family and the patient happy, and if the religious person could be brought in before the person dies!

    Of course if the person needed a doctor, and you called a retired doctor with Alzheimer's, that would be a major legal issue, which of course you know, and would never do.

    Quick thinking there. Great job!
  14. by   spotangel
    Of course if the person needed a doctor, and you called a retired doctor with Alzheimer's, that would be a major legal issue, which of course you know, and would never do.
    LOL!

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