The Last Bag of Pretzels

Most of us run away from the dying. Nurses Announcements Archive Article

The Last Bag of Pretzels

I spent 17 years in the ER fighting death. Death was our enemy. We posted statistics on the board at night. ER 5, Death 7. We couldn't bear to lose a patient. Especially horrific is a patient that walks in, only to expire in our hands. How can this happen? We have the technology. We have the skill. How can this person slip through our very capable hands? We reviewed the tragedies. Surely, they have done something to tip the scales. We hide from our own mortality. We have to, or the carnage becomes too much to bear.

A strange career change suddenly and inexplicably engulfed me after the death of my mother. I took a position as a Hospice Nurse. "You are now an Angel of Death". All the problems I tried to solve in the ER were suddenly not problems anymore. People who are dying stop eating. People who are dying stop healing. People who are dying have so much to offer us. If only we are brave enough to listen.

Those of us who fear and fight death miss out on an amazing array of clues to what real life is about. Not one dying patient has told me that they wished they had made more money. No one lamented the loss of objects, status, or property. What was foremost in their minds was repairing damage to a relationship and loss of time. Phone calls were made to estranged children or siblings. Grievances whose details were long forgotten needed to be smoothed over. It wasn't that important anymore.

I learned to hug. I learned to let go of that all important distance that keeps us from getting too involved. I have had an ocean of tears spilt upon my shoulders. I have heard, time and again, about the visitors most of the dying have. There are visitors that appear, almost predictably, 2 weeks before death. These are people dear to us that have already died. Our loved ones that come to help us transition to whatever the next adventure is. They are many helping hands amidst a sea of darkness. We are not alone.

I spent 45 minutes recently, sitting next to a man with Stage IV lung cancer, a large pleural mass causing a great deal of pain. With my encouragement, and a change in medication to include Ritalin, we were able to control pain without the sedation he feared. This is the ultimate loss of control. He is a huge man, a breadwinner, a father, husband and son. This was a man that did not float through life. Now he was expected to float through death. I listened. I heard the small boy that lived within asking for reassurance.

"Hell, this might be my last bag of pretzels".

I told him we would control the pain. I told him it was alright to be scared. He told be about the cemetery he could see from his house. The cemetery where he would be buried is across the street from his home. All his friends were there, he told me. Therein are interred a lot of his childhood friends, their parents, his parents, one of his sisters' children. Very good company he assures me.

Now this guy was getting to me. I let down my defenses, and I'm pondered my own mortality. Again, we assign blame sometimes to protect ourselves. He smoked, he drank too much, and he ate too much. No, none of us escape this. And here I am, attempting to coach someone through something I've never experienced. He needs to teach me.

I ask him to tell me what he's most afraid of. Tell me. Tell me so I know what I should fear. What scares you of the list.

"I'm scared because I can't go home anymore."

Home, the safe haven we all crave. Our home, where theoretically, we all go to hide from the world. The place where all the bad things can get shut out behind our front door. The place where people love and cherish us. Loss of protection, loss of loved ones. I agree. That's what I'll be most afraid of as well.

My home has taken on new dimensions for me. I am more willing to stop what I'm doing to listen, really listen, to something one of my kids is telling me. I'll let someone win a stupid argument. My old couch is comfortable; I can live without a new one. Overtime can go to someone else. I have more important things to do. Important things like hugging my loved ones, and other peoples' loved ones. I can't keep them from dying, but I can hold their hands and hear them.

22 year(s) of experience in ER and Hospice. Mother of 5.

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love what you said. it's a difficult realization to come to, but much more gratifying than saving someone, is to be included in the most intimate moment of their life; their death.

Specializes in EMS, ER, GI, PCU/Telemetry.

very well written article. thanks for sharing :)

Thank you for the Hospice insight. I am thankful for my 15 years as a CNA before becoming a nurse because that prepared me to understand my patients who are preparing for death. I feel at times that death is a Godsend for the patient as well as the family. My line is always. "Gods speed my friend, see you there!"

being a hospice nurse for many yrs, everything you stated, hit home w/me.

a good death, allows reflection and resolution...

as does a good life.

truly, let's not sweat the small stuff.

and thank you.

we need more of you.

I remember being an oncology nurse and it is very difficult not becoming involve, for letting it get personal, for being emotional and in the long run it gave me what I needed to help my husband die an at home peaceful death after a long and difficult 18month try at fighting the disease. I can appreciate everything that you had to say and how eloquently you did so. Thank you for being a good nurse.

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, home-care.

Wow, what a beautiful article. I am a CNA at the moment thinking of working with hospice. This article hit home with me because my neighbor (61 yrs young) had a massive stroke three days ago and now wants no heroic measures taken.. His family is at a loss and mourning hard before his passing. Thank you for your sharing.

Specializes in Paediatrics.

Thank You, your article made me sit back and reflect. From now on, I will remind myself to hug my kids more, pat my dog more, kiss my husband more, and say a prayer of thanks that I have all the above.

Specializes in Psych/Rehab/Family practice/Oncology.

Some of my most cherished nursing moments are those that I have spent with the dying, and their families, including my own sister. Thank you!

Specializes in med-surg.

That was beautiful...thank you Irish!!!

Specializes in Nursing assistant.

I really enjoyed this article. Well written!

Specializes in midwifery, NICU.

I ask him to tell me what he's most afraid of. Tell me. Tell me so I know what I should fear. What scares you of the list.

"I'm scared because I can't go home anymore."

:cry: ..Irish..that quote, above all the rest of your excellent post, that is so heart tearing. What happens to us all, when we cant go home anymore? That terrifies me, it's the last right of a human, to be in their own place, with their own familiar smells, things and feelings, with their family...(if they have one), to die in an unfamiliar place must be so scary, to look at unfamiliar surroundings as your last outlook on life must be so soul destroying. Please, we all know that the inevitable will happen to us all, but I wish for peace for anyone's passing.

Your post was so thoughtful, :bow: