Day One

Nervous anticipation, fear, uneasiness, sadness and an eagerness to learn the ropes.  I’d say all of those things smooshed together is exactly how I felt this morning.  That feeling of uncertainty because I don’t know what I am doing is almost overwhelming.  Sure, I can assess a patient – but, I look for signs of life and not signs of impending death.  Guess, what?  That’s how the cookie is going to crumble from now on.

The patients today were all very sweet and kind… some older, some not so old.  All pleasant and happy to see their usual RN (I was kind of an added bonus.. a little tagalong.. Kept having to say “I’m a new hospice nurse, but, an old nurse in general”).  I wasn’t sure how to really introduce myself or what I should and shouldn’t say.  I let the usual RN take the lead.  Some had family around… some were in a nursing home.  Some could talk… some could not.  One was actively dying… I don’t imagine that she will make it through this evening.  She was staring off… like those about to pass do… What was she seeing?  Do you see whatever awaits us in the afterlife as you are dying so that you aren’t fearful?

I’m not sure the answer to that question and I don’t know that any of us, with any degree of certainty, will be able to correctly answer it.  I would love to imagine that it is that way.  Her daughter was next to her.. telling her that she would be ok and that it was ok for her to let go.  Flashbacks flooded my mind, because about 4 years ago, I was doing the same.. not as a nurse, but as a daughter.

I don’t know how people do it.. How they are able to compartmentalize things… How they are able to not bring their own personal experiences into things.  I can tell ya’ll right now that it is not that way for me.  The rich tapestry of experiences that I have had will play into being a hospice nurse.  In a lot of ways, I know that it might make me a better one because I will be able to understand the feelings, be they good or bad, that my patients and families are experiencing.

So, my first real day as a labor and delivery nurse of death is complete.  Life is such a fleeting idea.  It sounds cliche but this makes me want to hug my loved ones harder.  It makes me want to not give up.  I don’t just think hospice nursing will make me a better nurse, but, it will make me a better person.

The Night Before

The new journey starts tomorrow.. Exciting first line, right?  Catchy… Well, it’s true.  Tomorrow my career really takes a totally different turn.  You see, for the past close to 10 years, I have been a nurse.  I’ve been a med surg nurse, I’ve been a step down nurse, I’ve been an ICU nurse and finally, I was a perianesthisa nurse.  Tomorrow, that kind of nursing is gone.  You see, all this time, I’ve been trying to save lives.  Starting tomorrow, I’ll be helping lives let go.

Hospice nursing wasn’t always something I was interested in.  Anyone who knows me knows that I loved being the nurse at the head of the bed when something was going south.  Analyzing the heart rhythm, making snap decisions about what meds to give and thinking quickly in order to try to save that precious soul that was in trouble.  I still do get that jolt of adrenaline thinking about it.  How am I going to go from the nurse that dueled with death to the nurse that holds the hand of a person who is willingly making that journey?  The truth is…. even I don’t know.

My favorite aspect of nursing was always the patient interaction.  I loved working nights when the patient’s needed bathing because I could spend time with them and just let them open up to me.  The stories I have heard, the laughs I have had and the tears that we have shared.  There is nothing like being that support for a person in their darkest hours.  My nursing practice always included actually sitting on my patient’s beds, holding their hands and actually trying not to speak but to listen.

In my mind, that’s what will be the part of hospice nursing that will suit my nursing the best.  Just listening… to patients, to families and to coworkers.  This could be the path that leads me to my more precise calling.  Nursing is and always will be my calling, but, maybe hospice nursing will be my particular niche.  I do wonder, however, how a girl who is scared of death can help guide others along that journey towards it?

It’s kind of like being a reverse labor and delivery nurse.  They take a pregnant woman on a journey to birth and I take someone on the reverse journey.  A labor and delivery nurse cannot tell her patient exactly what the journey of parenthood will be like.  In the same vein, I cannot tell a dying patient what and how to expect this passage will go.  I have no doubt that it will test my fortitude, my emotional and mental boundaries and my capacity to always want to heal.  Perhaps though, healing is exactly what I will be a part of.

Not all of us will be lucky enough to die exactly how we would like to.  Hospice patients are given that benefit.  They choose to pass at home.  They can choose to be surrounded by loved ones in their final moments.  That is something that will not be the same for the vast majority of the population.  These folks have decided that they have come to terms with their illnesses and choose to have a quality of life rather than a longer quantity.  The only word I can use to describe that is brave.

So, come on this road with me.  Hear the lessons I learn and feel the emotions that I do.  This blog will be candid.. it will be raw and it will be emotional.  This is one nurse’s journey into the unknown…..