Difficult Things to Say…

Lately when Kelsie and I compare days she talks about programming, and I, as always, talk about my days at work. HAHA neither are really similar but I appreciate that she lets me vent about my day even though she’s professed the desire to never work in medicine, at least a nurse… I feel less helpful to her as all I can do is nod and go ‘hmmm’ when she talks about programming as I have NO IDEA what it is about (and she knows this, and laughs at me about it).

Work has been really good lately! Even if I felt like I lived at the unit for the last week due to the weird non-regularity of my rotation and a few trades; even one of my patient’s family members commented on it, going ‘Justine, it feels like we see you every day…’. But it’s been rewarding 🙂 And busy. In a good way, mind you. Which brings me to this post title… the patient I talked about a few days ago ended up not doing so well after I had him (which was only 4 days ago, yikes) and along with his family, made the difficult decision to withdraw care and become palliative – basically, comfort care until he passed away. These meetings are always difficult, and while a part of me was grateful that they had made the decision based on what was best for the patient, I was sad as the patient and his family were absolutely lovely, sweet, and supportive the entire time he was in hospital!

I didn’t actually have the patient (we’ll call him F for the rest of this) this last run of three shifts, but I ‘covered’ him for 2/3 days, and I actually had the patient next door to him, so I made sure to say good morning to F and his family whenever I saw them, and if his nurse was busy and I was not, I’d run and help with things. I generally do this and nothing comes of it (nothing more unusual than a thank you from my colleague) but this must have made an impact because yesterday, the day F was going to hospice, I was covering him again and thus was darting in and out of the room more often. Which was nice, if bittersweet, as it’s never very happy and uplifting to be caring for a patient you know will die, but you’re just not sure when. F was pretty comfortable, and his family seemed very at peace with everything. One daughter had hugged me the day they’d made the decision and thanked me for everything… and this was the first moment that I realised I didn’t know how to respond to that. So I just hugged her back. Yesterday, after I left the room to chart a bit, I heard F’s daughter (jokingly, I thought) tell her father and her siblings that they were going to take me with them to the hospice so the trip wouldn’t be so scary. I knew that wasn’t meant for my ears, but it was nice to hear.

Later in the afternoon, F’s patient was in another meeting for her other patient, so I was helping get F onto the transport stretcher so that he could be transferred comfortably to hospice. I gave him a bit of pain medication, helped the family check through the room to make sure nothing was left behind, and then… we were done. But even though his ‘discharge’ from ICU was bittersweet, I felt like I needed to say something to F’s daughter, who I’d by far spent the most time with in the 4 days I’d been fortunate to care for him. But what do you say when the discharge is because the patient is going to pass away peacefully? Normally we say ‘good luck’ but that didn’t seem appropriate at all. So I hugged her, wished them a safe trip, and told them ‘God bless.’ I don’t know if that’s exactly what F’s daughter expected to hear, but she hugged me really tight, got a bit teary, which made me teary, and whispered ‘You’re the best. Thank you so much for everything. We couldn’t have done this without you.’

Is it weird that made my day? I’d clearly made an impact on F and his family, and even though I hadn’t had him for his final days on our unit, his family remembered me, and were comfortable asking me for help. I think the entire experience for me was a good one, and I definitely learned a lot…

But I wish sometimes that I had a handbook called “Things to Say to Families Who Thank You When Their Loved One is Dying In or After Your Care’.

Haha, this post is a bit emo and morbid. But I actually feel really happy about the whole thing. I just wanted to write it down so I remembered it. 🙂


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