Life as a Hospice Nurse Part 2

This is part two of my short little series about Hospice nursing.  As I stated in my last post, I began working as a Hospice nurse two months ago.  The great thing about my job is that I only work as much as I want to.  I chose which days I want to work and they “plug me in” in whichever office needs help that day.  I am on a set schedule of working every Wednesday and Thursday.  I also volunteer to take call on occasion–so far it has only been a few times because of being pregnant.  I love that it is not something I “have” to do but rather something I choose to do.  If I only want to work one day on a particular week (like this week) then I’ll only work one day.  Or if I want to get some extra hours in I can offer to work more.

For the last month I have been traveling each week to a neighboring town’s office.  Our company has about 40 offices across North Carolina.  There are at least five offices that are within a 45-60 minute drive from our home.  I love the office I am currently working at because it is close to my parents home.  I know the area well since I grew up there and the patients are wonderful.  Some times I’ll walk into a patients home and look around at the photos on the wall and can figure out some way that I know them.  Recently I have had an old high school classmate’s mother, and another classmate’s grandmother.  I have cared for farmers that know my parents and others who attend church with family members.

So what exactly do I do?  Typically the visit starts with vital signs and a head to toe assessment of the patient.  We listen to their lungs and their abdomens, check their legs and feet for swelling, etc.  Then we talk about how the week has been.  Are they having any pain?  Are their pain meds working?  Are their bowels moving okay?  Are they eating?  Do they have enough help with their bathing/dressing/etc.?  What has been the hardest part of the last week?  Do they have enough support at home?  Is there anything else that we can do that would make their present life easier?  In addition to nurses we have a social worker, hospice aides, and of course a chaplain–my hubby!

You really get to learn a lot about people, about family dynamics and about patient’s faith in a short amount of time.  Some of them are accepting of their impending death.  Some think they are going to live for 5 more years and “make it to 100”.  Some of them will live a few days on Hospice…and some will live several years with Hospice.  Some of them will suffer rather than take their pain meds for fear it will cause death to come more quickly.  Some of them will choose not to sleep or not to close their eyes at the end for fear that they will not wake up.  Some of them gain closure with their families and resolve difficult situations.  Some of them never have that peace of mind.  Some of them die without fear knowing that when they pass away from this life they will wake up in Heaven.  Some of them are without faith and without hope and have no idea what the afterlife holds in store for them.

It can be very rewarding at times.  And at other times it can be hard.  In fact, some days it is VERY hard.  Last week was my toughest yet.  More about that tomorrow.

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October 2009

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