Early in my nursing career, I had the honor of caring for Mr. Smith during the last moments of his life.
Before I came to care for him, I learned that he had been in declining health for some time. He was exhausted. In fact, during the course of this current admission, he made the very personal decision to forgo any further treatment. After discussing his wishes with his family who had gathered around him, Mr. Smith was placed on comfort care and a morphine drip.
Meeting Mr. Smith
I arrived for the first of three night shifts and received report on my patient assignment. Two of my patients were stable, two needed immediate attention, and then there was Mr. Smith. You see, he too was in need of care, as was his family. After hearing his story, I was moved by his strength to fight his illness and, later, his determination to be at peace.
After rounding on each of my patients, I arrived at Mr. Smith’s door. While I had experienced unexpected loss of life, I had yet to bear witness to someone who had made the conscious decision to stop treatment and take control of how he would spend his last days on earth.
He was determined to leave on his own terms, so to speak. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would handle it, and more importantly, if I would I be all that Mr. Smith and his family needed me to be. I did not doubt my ability to care for him. What concerned me most was how I would care for his son, daughter-in-law, and many grandchildren.
Could I comfort them in their grief while they watched someone they loved so dearly pass in front of their eyes. What was most concerning for me? Feeling inadequate in their time of need.
My first interaction with Mr. Smith and his extended family was just after this delicate and very personal decision had been made. In addition to providing needed care for him, I also explained what was happening (and going to happen) to the many family members who remained gathered at his bedside. There were several questions and plenty of emotions in the room that night. My shift ended with Mr. Smith resting comfortably and peacefully. I assured his family that I would be back with them the following night.
The next night, I returned to the hospital and received report for Mr. Smith. After once again rounding on my other patients, I arrived at his room. Before entering, I prayed I would be all that they needed — that I would convey compassion and grace during our time together. After providing care for Mr. Smith, my focus turned to the many family members by his bedside and specifically his daughter-in-law, Susan. I distinctly remember having a lengthy conversation with Susan, her husband, John, and their children regarding what they were witnessing.
By this time, Mr. Smith’s breathing had slowed, and he was unresponsive. At one point toward the end of …read more
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