Just the other day, I was asked, “How do you sleep at night?” by the friend of a patient who was dying. But I was not asked nicely. I was asked very sarcastically because I was one of the participants in the bearer of bad news. “There is nothing else we can do. Your loved one is going to die.”
Nurses don’t enjoy being the “bad guy.” And we don’t “enjoy” having to agree with the bad news just given to the loved ones of those dying. The truth is, every one of us would love nothing more than to see you get that miracle you are praying for. But we would rather be the bearers of bad news that the encouragers of false hopes.
Twelve-hour shifts – Often several of them in a row, with breaks only long enough for a drive home, a shower, and a “nap” before returning to care for very sick people all over again. Exhausting! And not only physically – But emotionally as well.
You see, we may leave our charting at work. But we bring our worries home with us.
“Did I miss anything?” “Was there anything else I could have done for her today?” And at 2 a.m., when we wake up for a moment in the night, our thoughts immediately as we look at the clock return to your loved one – “Gosh, I wonder how she’s doing tonight.”
We know every inch of our patient’s skin. We know how they react to our touch, how they respond to each one of their family members, and know how they will respond to their medications. We watch people go in and out of the rooms, and we very protectively question them – “Who are you?” “Did you need something?” Or to technicians who enter our room “What are you doing with my patient?” We turn them, tuck them in with soft pillows, rub their feet with lotion, cover them snuggly, reassure them, caress their forehead, and tell them it’s going to be okay.
And we tell them goodbye.
Often some of the most intimate moments are behind curtains with the door closed. We really do care for your loved ones. Nurses are people too. We are mothers, daughters, sons, fathers, brothers, and sisters. And we too, have lost loved ones. We know what a breaking heart feels like, and when your loved one is dying, and we have had the privilege of caring for them – Our heart gets another ache in it, and it often causes us to recall loved ones we miss dearly!
So, we close the curtain. We caress their forehead, hold their hand. We look them in the eye and we say, “You did a good job. You are a GOOD mom! A GOOD dad! And your kids are going to be okay!” What a privilege it is to care for your loved one…..
I missed saying goodbye to the family member of my patient the other day, because I was off the floor when he left. I sooo regret missing seeing him off, because he was so appreciative and kind. I would have liked to say goodbye.
So, because I was unable to tell him – I’d like to tell anyone who has ever told a nurse that they appreciated her (or him) – Here is what I would have told him…..
Thank you! Thanks for the honor of caring for your loved one. Thank you for acknowledging me and not being angry at me because of the horrible prognosis we hated giving you. Thank you for having the courage and strength to honor your loved one’s wishes and letting them go with dignity, and comfort, and peace!
Thank you, for treating ME kindly.
We nurses care for ALL of our patients. But sometimes, there are just some who we will never, ever forget.
And remember that very last “turn” with the curtain drawn and the door closed? That just might have been, when the nurse said goodbye…..