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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Baptism by Fire - Part 2


In hospice care, we expect our patients to die.  Our job is to help them - and their families - make the transition as painless and peaceful and as possible.  But, without contradicting myself, I can say that some of them are, indeed, unexpected.  It was Friday afternoon, March 26, and we had seem this precious little man the day before.  He was not actively dying when Debra and I saw him, and had in fact made plans to see his dentist.  He lived in a personal care home, and one of the residents had wandered into his room one night and stolen his upper plate, so he was going to get his new one.

Debra was at lunch, and since I live right around the corner from the restaurant, had, in lieu of eating, asked her to drop me at my house to check on my sick dogs.  

She got the call at about 2 PM and (as much as Debra can) rushed to pick me up.  It’s our job to be first responders, even though we are only there to confirm the death before anyone calls the family or the funeral home.  He was, indeed, dead, had fallen over in the bathroom and was discovered by one of the workers.  With help, she put him back in the bed and covered him.  He was fully dressed, and Debra and I put light dressings on the wounds on his arms that he sustained in the fall.  His family didn’t need to see that.

I can think of nothing worse that getting a telephone call saying a loved one is dead, (I has happened to me). so we gathered the family by phoning to say our patient was worse and maybe they should come see him.  That took about an hour, and we waited for them on the front porch to tell them the sad news.  Maybe the only thing worse than a phone call would be finding your daddy dead on the bathroom floor.

This all sounds clinical and detached, but stay with me.  It’s just background.  I promise not to go through these details in future posts.

The average time from death until departure for the funeral home is two to three hours.  We were there for 3 because we waited for a son to drive from his home, which was about an hour away.  We didn’t have to stay.  We chose to because that’s who we are.  The preacher came and prayed over all of us, which I suppose didn’t do any of us any harm.  I have my own ideas about spirituality that might have made him say extra prayers over me, but that’s another post altogether.

So, we left at 5:00 PM, the hour at which we went “on call” until 5 AM.  We still had two routine follow-ups because of the extra time spent with our grieving family, so we went and took care of those and grabbed a wrap for dinner and ate it in the car.  Between patients we were notified of a pending admission, but we had to wait until the patient was dismissed from the hospital and had arrived at home before we could do anything about that.  

Then the phone rang again.  It was our on call nurse who fields phone calls after hours, and she delivered a message from the daughter of a patient with whom we were not familiar.  Remember, we were on call.  Her nurse was off duty.  “I think Mama has stopped breathing.  Please come.”  Our phone nurse gave us the information we needed about her diagnosis and directions to the house.

At Debra’s usual breakneck pace, we hunted down the house .  When we were almost there, we got another call saying “Mama has started breathing again, but would we please come by and check on her?”  It was dark.  It was in a semi-rough part of town.  I’ve been in worse.  We parked on the street and waded through the crowd assembled on the porch and spilling out onto the sidewalk.

Then we walked into the room, and there in the hospital bed, was a perfect, tiny, light brown angel wearing a baby blue knit hat pulled down over her ears, bedcovers pulled up to her neck.  Her eyes were light brown and round as plates and from them emanated love and and kindness and light.  She flashed a short toothless smile, and I don’t think I have ever seen a more beautiful face.

Her daughter was at her bedside drenched in tears, and I was drawn to her and she stood and we embraced and I offered her my power and strength.  She held me fast and took it, pulling gently away to once more take her place at her mother’s side and wipe away her tears.

That winsome little lady had experienced a long period of sleep apnea, but she was far from dying.  Her eyes followed us all around the room as we checked on her vital signs and reassured her family.
It was a good thing.

It was 10:00 PM, and our admission was still waiting to be dismissed from the hospital.

Why, you may wonder, have I chosen this subspecialty of nursing?  After all, My Dead Husband has been gone less than a year.  I find it healing to offer comfort - when I can - to patients and their families.  I know where they are.  I have watched the light go out in the most precious eyes in the world, and it in a strange way completes me to be able to help others through the same experience.  Clint did dying right.  I would give my fingers to have him back, but he is gone.  Some people, patients and families, need permission to express their sadness, to say their good-byes.  I want to be the person who gives them that permission.  Some of them just can’t do it, and I want to be the person who listens and understands when they say that, too.

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