Most of us spend our lives denying our mortality until we have to face it. A recent story by NPR’s Nancy Updike takes you inside a hospice to find out what it’s like to be a nurse whose job it is to look End-of-Life in the face every day.
“These nurses care for people who are afraid, tired, sick of being sick,” Updike said. Patty Burnham is a Registered Nurse at Kaplan House, a hospice near Boston. Part of her job is to know what patients need when they can no longer communicate. “Sometimes it’s a bath or something as simple as holding their hand,” Burnham said.
The nurses face a constant series of decisions and judgment calls. A common question families ask is about palliative care. “A lot of people want to know if we are drugging their loved one so they will die faster,” Burnham said. “I tell them I wouldn’t do this job if that was the case. If they’re meant to turn around, we do not give them anything that will prevent that from happening.”
Hospice nurses find moments to help families understand what’s happening. Updike, who lost her stepfather to cancer said, “I went to be with him the last 10 days of his life. One nurse got me cleaning his fridge; I realized she did it to give me something to do.”
When her stepfather was in his final moments she recalls, “The nurse told us to give him a dropper of water and say our names close to his face so he knew who we were. I didn’t know how badly we needed a ritual until the nurses gave us one.”
Listen to the story here.