I need help processing my first hospice patient experience.

  1. 0
    Hi Guys,
    I'm a new grad RN who was hired into a palliative care/hospice unit at a VA hospital. I have no prior experience with hospice (or nursing in general) and was given very limited training in this area- only 4 days before I was on my own. Today I received a new admit who was given days to weeks. His sister was supposed to visit him on Sunday. The resident ordered morphine 2-4mg q2H PRN, and haldol 1-2mg PRN. I also called her to get ativan on board in case he needed it. At the beginning of shift, he was out of it but still able to answer yes or no questions. This gentleman was the yellowest man I've ever seen (think curry powder yellow). He had a hx of alcohol abuse and his liver and kidneys were completely shut down. I decided to give him the max dose of morphine and haldol every 2 hours on the dot because I didn't want him to experience any discomfort. He wasn't very responsive so it was hard for me to tell whether he needed more. After the first couple doses, he went from minimally responsive and very restless/moaning to almost totally non-responsive and fell into a deep sleep. I asked for advice from the other nurse, who thought it was better to err on the side of caution and keep giving him the morphine every 2 hours because he was still occasionally moaning. He received a total of 16mg of morphine, 6mg haldol and 0.5mg ativan from me during my 8 hour shift. By the time I gave report at midnight, he was apneic and only breathing once every 30 seconds or so. I can't help but think I sped up the process too fast since his body can't metabolize the morphine or haldol. What would you have done in this situation? Did I give him too much too fast, in essence shutting his respiratory system down within 8 hours? I know it was inevitable, but I am feeling intense guilt that his sister won't see him because she lives far away and thought he had at least the weekend. Should I have spaced out the doses/given him less when I saw he went into a deep sleep? He is my first dying patient and I'm still not sure how all of this is supposed to work.
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  3. 26 Comments so far...

  4. 0
    I don't work hospice so I don't know common practice. However, I'm not sure that I would want to make the patient to the point of being nearly dead. Maybe administer a little less frequently or base administration on vitals and loc. I'm interested to know what experienced palliative care nurses have to say though.
  5. 1
    I'm relatively new to hospice, but after training with several other nurses; I've come to an understanding of morphine, haldol and ativan usage.
    I would continue to administer morphine as ordered, even if the patient isn't groaning. I felt the same way about holding morphine since patient was unresponsive and resting but not complaining of pain (grimaces or moans) while on morphine but although metabolism slows down, and your pt's hepatitis or hepatitis-like dx is present, we administer to prevent breakthrough pain (many cancer patients) or rebound pain. In regards to feeling youre speeding up the process, do your research on roxanol and haldol and become familiar with dosages so you can use your nursing judgment to advice hospice to increase or decrease dosages. Pt respirations may slow down but it does not happen to every patient. Signs of active phase of death/decline include all the sx you've described. Also if hospice pt have hx/sx of alzheimers/dementia; take a closer look after administering ativan. Active ingredients in ativan sometimes cause lil relief in agitation with these pt, that's when I'd call hospice and ask to switch to haldol for "ineffective relief of terminal agitation."

    We're here for the patient, if family can't arrive in time, well they just won't arrive in time. I've had to tell myself over and over that I'm there to comfort my patient and be an emotional support for family; trying to lessen their dosage so family can arrive in time isn't in the patients best interest (pain wise). It's such a fine line, but rest assured you should feel no guilt. I commend you for entering an excellent speciality and wish you the very best with all your hospice patients and families.
    mandyroseallen likes this.
  6. 2
    Quote from pkateRN
    Hi Guys,
    I'm a new grad RN who was hired into a palliative care/hospice unit at a VA hospital. I have no prior experience with hospice (or nursing in general) and was given very limited training in this area- only 4 days before I was on my own. Today I received a new admit who was given days to weeks. His sister was supposed to visit him on Sunday. The resident ordered morphine 2-4mg q2H PRN, and haldol 1-2mg PRN. I also called her to get ativan on board in case he needed it. At the beginning of shift, he was out of it but still able to answer yes or no questions. This gentleman was the yellowest man I've ever seen (think curry powder yellow). He had a hx of alcohol abuse and his liver and kidneys were completely shut down. I decided to give him the max dose of morphine and haldol every 2 hours on the dot because I didn't want him to experience any discomfort. He wasn't very responsive so it was hard for me to tell whether he needed more. After the first couple doses, he went from minimally responsive and very restless/moaning to almost totally non-responsive and fell into a deep sleep. I asked for advice from the other nurse, who thought it was better to err on the side of caution and keep giving him the morphine every 2 hours because he was still occasionally moaning. He received a total of 16mg of morphine, 6mg haldol and 0.5mg ativan from me during my 8 hour shift. By the time I gave report at midnight, he was apneic and only breathing once every 30 seconds or so. I can't help but think I sped up the process too fast since his body can't metabolize the morphine or haldol. What would you have done in this situation? Did I give him too much too fast, in essence shutting his respiratory system down within 8 hours? I know it was inevitable, but I am feeling intense guilt that his sister won't see him because she lives far away and thought he had at least the weekend. Should I have spaced out the doses/given him less when I saw he went into a deep sleep? He is my first dying patient and I'm still not sure how all of this is supposed to work.
    Because you are practicing in a palliative inpatient unit you can do things a bit differently, more cautiously so that YOU are comfortable as well. That is important.

    In the absence of agitation or restlessness, I would have held the haldol and observed. He IS in a controlled environment where you have immediate access to him and other support.

    Should we presume that you decided on the dose of morphine because of his pain/relief history and recent trajectory?

    If he is moaning then it is correct to assume that he has some discomfort. What is the nature of the pain? Is it physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual? Do you have access to hospice for support? Use the PAINAD to assess your minimally responsive patients.

    I like to put oxygen on them in situations like this, simply because my intent is to promote comfort and not accelerate death.

    In hospice care, 16 mg of IV morphine in a shift is NOT considered a huge dose. You are thinking along the correct lines for hospice care. How often do you get to check on your patients during the course of a shift? How many do you care for?

    You did fine and had the patient's comfort as your first priority...GOOD JOB

    First deaths are hard...we all learn a great deal from them!
    cubsfan1 and softrbreeze like this.
  7. 1
    I came in yesterday and to my utter shock, my patient was still hanging on. I was with him 16 hours yesterday until this morning because one of the night shift nurses called off, and I couldn't justify leaving him without adequate nursing care. when I got report, I was told he was extremely restless and agitated all morning. I looked at the orders and saw morphine 4mg q4h and morphine 2mg q2h PRN. there was also haldol and Ativan on board still. I called his sister (only family) to tell her that based on my assessment, she may want to come into the unit. She said she couldn't make it but if he was still alive the next day she would come in. so it was just me and this gentleman for those 16 hours. during the course of that time, he was restless, moaning in his sleep, and having trouble breathing. I took a step back and asked myself "what would you do if this was mom or dad?" I decided to give him both scheduled and PRN doses of morphine, the haldol q2h and the ativan every 4 hours. he began to look more comfortable until he was repositioned, and at that time he groaned loudly and even opened his eyes for the first time in 2 days with a grimacing face. I felt horrible. his extremities were weeping huge amounts of fluid, he was bleeding in random spots and I could hear the fluid in his lungs with no stethoscope. based on that, I continued to give him everything in my arsenal to make him as comfortable as I could.

    it was definitely a learning curve the first day with him, but I felt more comfortable yesterday and this morning....I told myself, "you have to be confident in this. you are not going to let him die groaning and grimacing."

    to the person who asked, I had him and 4 other patients on the evening shift, and him and 7 others on the night shift. I'm so tired today I can barely function.
    tewdles likes this.
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    I forgot to add, our residents are idiots this time. we get new ones every 2 weeks and I have no idea where these people came from. this morning, myself and my charge nurse FINALLY convinced them to give this man a morphine drip. I could tell by this morning that his pain was getting progressively worse so I'm thankful he has that coming.

    thank you for the responses so far. I am eager to learn about what other nurses would have done here. as I said, he is my first dying patient and I'm flying by the seat of my pants.
  9. 0
    after typing the last response I feel like I should explain why I said "these residents are idiots." we are primarily a rehab unit, with one hallway of palliative and hospice. the residents generally have no hospice experience, so our most experienced hospice nurse sat down and explained that on this unit:
    1. we do not take vital signs on dying patients
    2. we cannot IV push medication, so it has to go through another route
    3. this patient is minimally responsive on admission, so PO route is not an option

    after this conversation, the resident ordered vitals qshift, activity up with assistance daily, and all med orders in the computer were PO and IV push. all orders had to be changed before I could take care of this man. she also told me that she didn't want to give him much medication because his liver is shot and it will build up. it has been such a struggle for me to advocate for this man when I'm new myself and am still learning. last night the resident said "do you know how hard it is to take care of these people? do what you feel is necessary and I'll sign the order." I just haven't totally learned what all is necessary, or what all my options even are.
  10. 2
    Honey, many (most?) residents are idiots! LOL. You'll get no argument from me!

    I think it sounds like you're doing an absolutely awesome job, especially as a new grad! Are you in a hospital setting? I guess you must be to be dealing with residents. I have been a nurse for just over three years now, and started in a hospital cardiac stepdown and a year later moved to the ICU. I am new to hospice, too -- I started with a hospice company in September. I travel all day, though; most of my patients are in SNFs or in their own homes. Would love to hear more specifics about your job....I've been doing this for two months, and even though I went to nursing school in my midlife specifically to do hospice nursing, I'm not sure this is the right fit for me. The paperwork and administrative duties are overwhelming -- my job is about 20% patient interaction and 80% marketing and documenting.

    Anyway, don't know how long you've been out of nursing school, but it sounds like you are a brilliant nurse and are definitely in the right specialty for you! Good luck, and continued success!
    mandyroseallen and jen118 like this.
  11. 0
    Ooops. Just saw that you were hired at a VA hospital. Sorry. Missed that. (I'm having wine with dinner!) LOL!
  12. 0
    If your patient has rhonchi and and pulmonary congestion you can ask for atropine 1% gtts and transdermal scopalomine.


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