I am a hospice nurse, I get it. It’s the job I signed up for. I know that I will be helping patients, who are terminally ill, live out their final days with dignity, freedom of choice and, as much as I can provide, free of pain. Often times, as with all things beyond our control, the 6 month hospice time table, doesn’t play along.
When someone chooses hospice, a doctor certifies that he/she has 6 months or less to live. Life doesn’t always allow itself to be qualified by some box that is checked. Many times, a patient lives beyond those six months. (side note, but, studies have proven that hospice patients live 4 months longer than those not on hospice.. so much for angels of death rap that we get ) Their conditions change and just like any good roller coaster, the ups are exhilarating and the downs are devastating.
For as much as we are told to make boundaries and protect ourselves as hospice workers, I would be remiss to say that I’m always able to do this. Seeing someone, be it patient or family, at their most vulnerable moments causes the birth of a bond. We laugh when they do and cry as they cry.
Even though my job is to help one traverse the vast mystery that is dying, it is also human nature to root for someone to recover. You see, I do get excited when I have to discharge someone from hospice because they are no longer terminal. The undeniable truth is that when a patient gets better or remains the same, part of me is really ok with that.
I know I am supposed to be the guide that makes the process of dying less grim. And, I do that, when the time calls for it. My words would be untruthful if I did not say that having a patient for an extended period of time doesn’t make losing them hurt less. It makes it hurt worse.
When I am first assigned a case, I do read over the information and after meeting, grieve for them a bit. I guess it’s my own way of shielding myself from the harshness of reality. But, just as the water of the ocean breaks down the barrier of sand, so does time with my resolve. Slowly, I get lulled in.
But, the realness of reality does eventually win and the patient’s journey comes to an end. It becomes much more bitter – that second lap of grieving and loss. You see, I didn’t know them the first time around. We didn’t share laughs and stories. I didn’t learn how you met your spouse or how you quit work to become an entrepreneur. The nuances of your life were unknown to me. Yet those nuances make the grief thicker, like the fog on a spring morning.
Sheryl Crowe once sang that the first cut is the deepest. Sorry, Sheryl, but, it’s the second that hurts the most.