This experience is unlike anything I've experienced before...however, since I have had such an interest in Hospice nursing since before I started nursing school and became an RN, I hope I will get to share more of these experiences as I volunteer for Hospice starting this fall. (* denotes name change)
The patient, a woman in her mid-70s, had spoken to the on-coming dayshift nurse *Mary* (my co-worker) about her fears of death as she said, "I believe today is my last day here." Mary came to me to tell of this patient's fears knowing that I have a special interest for those needing end-of-life care. I told her that if she'd like, I would sit with the patient and talk to her, hold her hand and comfort her. A few moments later the call bell went off and the respiratory therapist called for Mary to come to the room immediately. Mary asked me to come along assuming that the patient had passed; but what we and three other co-workers experienced next left us in awe.
As I put on gloves to help the patient become more comfortable; she raised her head up - eyes closed - and spoke to all of us, "WOW! It's just so beautiful...I can't even explain it."
We all leaned in closer as if children listening to a favorite bed-time story.
Mary asked, "Please tell us more about what you are experiencing..."
The patient replied, "I'm not scared anymore." She became instantly calmer and looked much more comfortable than she had been previously. "I am ready to go. There is just such beauty. First I was scared, but now, WOW, there are no words for the beauty. I am ready to go home to heaven."
In that moment, we just looked at each other. Mary and two of our other co-workers stated, "I have never experienced this with a dying patient, this is amazing."
Mary then asked the patient, "if you are ready to go, what are your final wishes? Would you like us to call your family? Would you like us to contact the chaplain? What is your religion?"
The patient replied, "I am Catholic, yes, please tell the chaplain to come quickly as I believe I don't have much time left. My family, tell them to get here so I can give them a hug and tell them I love them; tell them I will wait for them before I go."
I immediately left the room to contact the Chaplain and told her to get to the patient's room STAT. Another co-worked left to call the family and told them to get to the hospital as quickly and safely as possible.
As the Chaplain entered the room, she heard the patient's remarks about the beauty of heaven and how she was ready to pass. Her face grew an expression much like the rest of ours, as she too was in awe at what she was hearing. We all listened and then joined in a prayer for the patient.
About 30 minutes later, the patient said, "I am now ready to die. Once my family gets here and I can tell them I love them, I will go. I know they will be here soon."
Another 15 minutes later the patient's family arrived. We exited the room to allow the patient time with her family. From outside the door we could hear sobs from the loved ones and the barely audible voice of the patient telling her daughter and husband "I love you. I'll be waiting for you." The daughter left the room for a few moments to collect her thoughts and in those last few moments, the husband reported that he took his wife's hand and kissed her on the forehead and she took her final breath.
I had never experienced the death of someone (as well as my co-workers had not) where the patient's thinking and verbalization was so clear within their last hours before death, let alone sharing their apparent visions of heaven. I found it truly amazing that she literally held on until her family could listen to her say "I love you" one last time. It showed me the true power of the human soul and how strong willpower can persevere even in moments before passing on.