As the “national hospice month” comes to a close, I am cognizant of articles in newspapers, blogs, TV series and other notable media that have highlighted palliative care, hospice services, having the difficult conversations, etc., etc. I am always pleased to see a little notoriety for hospice. Speaking about the “H” word still worries folks, though.
Those of us who care for the dying, after answering the question, “What do you do?” have seen the same look on many faces: something of a frightened expression, eyes darting to the wall, with a comment like, “Oh. I don’t know how you do it”, often accompanying a change of subject. (This just happened to me tonight, as a matter of fact!) We joke about being the “wet blanket” at parties, and certainly not the family member that people want to talk to while undergoing any potentially hazardous treatment or when seeking information regarding a new diagnosis. My hairdresser refers to me as “the grim reaper” and laughs at his own joke.
A patient’s family member recently gave me a sympathetic look when I noticed and remarked about the smile on his mother’s face after she had died; convinced I had an over-active imagination. Needless to say, the most comfortable people talking about hospice are people who work in hospice.
Those of us surrounded by death would tell you there is something magical and unexplainable that occurs as people are dying. The other side of that coin is: dying is pretty practical. Patients sometimes look for a simple solution to the dying process. “Isn’t there
something you can do?” I have been asked and I have wished it was so. I have also known some of those patients who decided to obtain the medications that they take to end their life prematurely (the state of Washington has legalized assisted suicide). My patient this week referred to his “magic pills” which he plans to take in the next couple days.
No, Hospice does not provide magic pills, though I have often wished for something to make my patients live long healthy lives or some way to be done with life rather than experience suffering at the end. I wish there were some magic pills, but there are no truly easy solutions. Today, I heard from a patient that “life should be simple”.
When my 7 year old granddaughter, still in the age of magical thinking, began quizzing me about what I did as I nurse, I explained that I didn’t work in a hospital anymore, like her
mommy does; instead I drive in my car and go to see people in their homes. I help their families take care of them because they are very sick, and most of my patients die.
Non-pulsed, she told me, “Oh. Maybe your patients need more medicine, Nana”.
I wish it was that simple.