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End of Life Care from a Professional Provider: A Case Study

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Terminal Illness Hospice Care Hospice

Medical professionals provide a wide variety of care and their jobs are undoubtedly stressful at times. Balancing a patient’s physical requirements with their emotional and spiritual ones, accommodating the needs of the family, and trying to avoid becoming too personally involved in one’s cases can take its toll, but for those who provide end of life care, handling all of that is just part of their everyday lives.

A Career Carer

Stacie has been a nurse for almost seventeen years—the last six of them in hospice care. She provides end of life care for terminal patients, usually spending a great deal of time one-on-one with them and their loved ones. “Unlike traditional nursing, which I did for many years, in hospice, I develop close relationships with many of my patients, as well as with those closest to them. I’m there, day in and day out, usually until the end.”

Emotional Attachments

Though her training stressed the importance of caregivers keeping professional distance, Stacie finds it impossible not to develop attachments to her patients. “I guess that ideally, hospice workers would be able to maintain an emotional distance, but that’s just not me. My heart breaks a little each time I lose someone, but the rewards of my work far outweigh the difficulties.”

After the delivery of a terminal diagnosis, patients and their families are thrust into a painful, stressful, and often exhausting chapter of their lives, and in most cases, they feel completely unprepared for what is to come. Stacie makes a point of paying attention to how everyone is coping—not just her patient.

“The ways that people interact during times of extreme stress are sometimes not how they behave during the course of their normal lives. Sometimes, I think that the most important part of my job is to provide an outlet for family members—a shoulder to lean on, a willing ear, or just a break from the stress of taking care of a dying loved one. One thing I’ve learned is to expect the unexpected,” says Stacie. “I’ve seen family members who haven’t spoken in years reunite when a family member is in hospice, and sadly, I’ve seen otherwise happy families torn apart by the stress of a family crisis.”

Good Advice

Because of her extensive experience as a hospice nurse, Stacie has some wonderful ideas about helping terminally ill patients find peace and helping their families to cope with loss. She believes wholeheartedly that the terminally ill should be encouraged to express themselves, no matter what that might mean. “Sometimes, people worry that they might say the wrong thing when they are feeling scared, angry, and vulnerable, but it is at these times when it most important to speak what’s in your heart. I’ve seen people hold back because they worry about how their words will be interpreted, but those who open up are usually the ones who find a wealth of acceptance, and that can be very healing.”

As far as family members and other loved ones, Stacie advises that they give what they can because later, they do not want to live with regret. “Say what you can to ease your loved one’s mind. And pitch in where you can, but take time to take care of yourself, too. Most of all, family members should remember that the way that they behave and the actions they take during their loved one’s last days will have long-term consequences—things that will live beyond their terminally ill loved one. One of the best ways to honour the memory of someone they love is to give from the heart.”

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