Like many things in the nursing career, caring for a dying patient is arguably the most challenging if not heart-wrenching tasks you will ever have to deal with. The experience will challenge every nursing fiber in you. Those who know will tell you that it’s irrelevant how long you have been a nurse for or how many patients have died before your very eyes. This undertaking is one of those life’s realities one never gets used to.
As a nurse caring for a patient under palliation, your mind will twirl each time you go to them. Your heart will jolt as you wonder what on earth could be going on in their mind. If you’re one who like a bit of humor with your patients every now and again you know the timing couldn’t be more wrong. You simply don’t know what face to put on.
Each experience will be different. However, should you find yourself caring for a dying patient, here are some tips on how you can help yourself and more importantly your dying patient. As much as therapeutic detachment is crucial in nursing to be able to ‘do more’ for the patient, you can forgive yourself for being upset and emotional at this time. If the patient wants to talk, remember it is enough to listen.
Follow the doctor’s instructions
Don’t tell them something contrary to what the doctors have already told them. There’s a fine line between offering words of comfort and giving false hope.
Keep them comfortable
Advocate on behalf of your patient. If they are in pain, do your best to keep them as comfortable as possible. If they are distressed, be there for them. Communicate their needs to the doctors, palliative care nurses as well as relatives and ensure that these requirements are met.
Reach out to a religious leader
If they have any spiritual or religious needs, facilitate these requirements by contacting a Pastor, Bishop or any relevant person. Furthermore, if they want to be at home for those final hours, it is your job to cooperate with the members of the multiple disciplinary teams to facilitate that. Remember it’s not about you or their relatives- it’s about them!
Holistic care is of particular importance at this time. Therefore, approach the patient as a whole person, considering support for the patient’s loved ones, reassuring them as much as you can.
When the moment finally comes, respectfully give your patient and their relatives space to be with their loved one. Be available to offer support wherever possible.