Life is full of questions. Life is full of choices. Life is full of decisions. Life is full of those moments where you feel like you should have the answers, but you just don’t. Having a loved one in hospice or being yourself in hospice is a microcosm of questions and uncertainties. Just like a drop of water that never runs down a pane of glass the exact same way twice, so is the final journey and passing. With all the questions and uncertainties swirling around like a sandstorm in the dry desert heat, you look to someone as an oasis… as the giver of knowledge. But, what if that person doesn’t have that oasis of answers?
I believe in being honest. Some of my friends would rather I would not be as brutally honest as I could be sometimes. My motto? Kill me with the truth rather than comforting me with a lie. Sometimes, I wish I was better at being someone who could pacify with fibs. It would come in so handy, like when a family member turns to me with a question they think I should know the answer to and I have to say that I just don’t know. Because, guess what? I don’t know everything.
It’s not always easy to admit that I don’t know what they are so hopeful that I do. Feelings of letting down these folks that are counting on me for answers hang heavy , like the sap on a maple tree. When the questions become the more challenging ones like “How much time?”, I feel like a fraud because inevitably a patient lives longer or shorter than I say. I have taken to saying that whatever the time is that they have left is between them and their God. In some ways, I feel absolved of the sin of mispredicting.
Sometimes, the answer to a question involves me making a call or searching a book. My heart wishes that my brain would be able to have access to every morsel of knowledge needed so that I would never need to say that I wasn’t sure. I get worried that patients and families begin to question my skill level and intelligence when I say I am unsure of something. “She doesn’t know? Oh, and she is supposed to be the one in charge of the care?” I have to be honest, (see above) I might think the same thing, but, wouldn’t you rather someone take a minute and look things up? What is the alternative? Bullshitting your way out of a question to save your own pride comes at the expense of your patient’s safety – for me, that’s too high a price to pay.
If I close my eyes right now, I can almost feel the churning in my stomach and the flutter in my chest that occurs when eyes look to me for answers I just don’t have. Makes me feel 2 inches tall, but, I, as evidenced in many other posts, am just human. All of us nurses are. If we don’t know, it’s not because we are stupid, but because we haven’t been exposed to it yet. Be patient, be kind, be honest and most of all, be willing to say that you just don’t know. In not knowing and finding the right answers, our commitment to providing the best possible care shines through. It takes strength to say I don’t know. It takes bravery to admit a lack of knowledge. It takes a selflessness to be that vulnerable. Isn’t that what defines the kind of nurse you would want caring for your loved ones?