Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Life of a Hospice Nurse

This story came across my email at work, and it just so perfectly captures what it's like to be a hospice nurse.  Though I am rarely on call during the night anymore (and I admit, I'm thankful for that!), I had several years and many nights of this exact story.  Now, as the supervisor, I find myself getting irritated when I do have to go see a patient during the day because my "real" job just piles up while I'm gone.  But every time, I tell myself--just as the nurse who wrote this tells herself--that this is where I'm needed...for this family, for this moment, for this crisis.  I hope when my kids read this someday, they will understand what Mommy does when she goes to that mystical place called "work".

A 'Page' in the Life of a Hospice Nurse

There are days when a sledgehammer seems to be the only rational response to my beeper. The beeper...that 'wonderful' little device with its incessant bleating, demands (and, usually gets) instant gratification. That technological advance that keeps me electronically tethered to the physical and emotional demands of my patients and their families. Sometimes, I really hate that beeper. Then I remember why I carry it. I'm a hospice nurse.

It's 2:00 am, and I'm on my way to see a patient. I wish I could say that I don't mind being wrenched from my warm bed on a cold night, but the truth is that I do. I comfort myself on the drive to the patient's home by reminding myself that at this very moment, dozens of hospice nurses just like me have brushed aside their wants and needs, so that instead they can hold a hand, give a hug, say a prayer. And when the embraces have been exhausted, and words or prayers fail us, we sit still with these people, drawing strength from the quiet togetherness of souls sharing pain.

At last, I reach my patient's home to find his wife waiting for me by the door. Her cordial greeting cannot hide the fear etched upon her face. "I think he's gone," she says simply. When I see her husband, I see what it does not take a nurse's education to understand - no longer is her husband bound to earth by the temporal bonds of pain and sickness. He is gone, but he is free.

As I help her bathe him before the funeral home arrives, she repeats to me the sweet history of their courtship, the early days of their marriage. She speaks of the divine comfort in growing old with someone you love, thinking that there are still a thousand tomorrow's to be shared. Then, she recalls that terrible day in the doctor's office two years age. "No hope...here's a prescription," seems to be all she remembers of the day she found out that dreams, sometimes like people, die. She sings for me the song her husband wrote for her when he was trying to win her heart. Just when I feel her grief overwhelm me, she offers words of thanks that are a balm to my troubled spirit..."I don't know what I would have done without you nurses from hospice."

Finally, I step back out into the brittle light of the winter morning; time to start a new day. Making my way back into the office to look at my schedule, I think of all the beautiful people I've met because of the 'darn' beeper.

"How was on-call last night?" asks a co-worker. I look down at my pager, the event of that early a.m. visit whispering across my mind.

"Not bad," I say, smiling.

"Not bad at all."

Teresa I. Brown RN, C
Hobbs, New Mexico

FANFARE/Winter 1997/1998
Volume XI, No.IV
This postcard is published by the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. It's especially meaningful since my mother in law will be going on hospice soon... I'm sure you gals are used by God to touch so many people at a very deep level during their most vulnerable times. Thank you for what you do.
    Cheryl (Becky B.'s sister)