April 29, 2005

Who Will Hold Your Hand When You Die?


I cringe when people say I'm too nice. I'm confused when friends tell me I should be angry at those who have deliberately done me wrong in my lifetime. I am saddened when I see my co-workers being rude and spiteful and seeking revenge. I wish we could all hold hands at the end of each day and say, "Let's all just be nice". We all agree that life is short, but few of us really live like we believe that.

I've held the hand of many patients as they take their last breath and I've heard the last heartbeat with my stethoscope. I can't count the number of times I've sat alone with a dying person and just held their hand. The relatives and friends are long parted or haven't made it to the bedside in time. I've had a near death experience myself so I can confidently report that there are no emotions when you die; just the peacefulness of death's passage. Nothing of the past changes the dying.




Not too long ago - or maybe it was a long time ago - my patient who had a terminal illness but wasn't gravely ill suddenly died. I called the daughter and told her to come right away but didn't tell her that her mother had died. The daughter was terribly distraught at the sight of her mother and begged me to tell her that her mother wasn't dead..

"I could never live with myself if I didn't make it in time. I promised mom I'd be there. Please tell me she's still alive" (The patient looked very deceased to me!) But, as the daughter hugged her mother to her heart I got out my stethocospe and said, "Shhhhh. Let me listen." Then I said, "I think I heard a faint heartbeat. Tell your mother goodbye now." She cried and said all the things she should have said to her mother over the years then she turned to me and said, "thank-you" and left the room.


Surely every one of us faces the question death and dying but few live as if it might happen anytime soon. It's a subject we usually prefer to avoid. I think of it a lot because for over 35 years it's been a part of my daily work to deal with death. Us nurses get close to our patients (young or old) and when they die in our care, we reflect on how it affects us. It makes me want to live each day like it could be my last - or not! And, I do sometimes wonder who will hold my hand...



My guardian angel often uses the radio to give me answers to my inquiring questions about discouragement and frustrations of daily life. You may chuckle if you don't believe in angels or have the guidance of a higher power. Believe me, I don't listen to the radio much because after the first song, I'm usually bored. But many times when a problem has been heavy on my mind while I'm driving, I turn on the radio and have an answer within a few minutes.

Just a few days ago I was questioning my faith and belief in something. Finances uncertain, my jobs troubling and friends seemed few and far between. I was driving to my second job (no days off in months!) and as I stopped at a long redlight, I ordered my angel to "give me an answer". I said, "If there are really angels looking after me, I want to hear the announcer say that in the last hour they played a song with the word 'angel' in it." Well, he listed all the songs they just played and there was nothing about angels.

I drove on a bit disappointed but not sure how discouraged I was. I pushed the button searching for something to keep my interest. Suddenly a song was starting that I knew. It was, of course, about an angel sent to watch over me! I remembered the song and sang along with it! I hugged myself with delight and still smile when I remember the incident.

Once when I got to work, the two 7-3 nurses were at odds with each other. As one nurse was walking down the hall she turned and yelled at the other nurse, "Mind your own business". The second nurse hollered back, "You need to get over your mad cow disease!"

This exchange as each nurse is another moment closer to death!

My husband is taking his Master's Degree online and sometimes there is miscommunication in the confines of cyberspace education. If not checked, words become capital letters and angry jabs are thrown back and forth until some calm mediator comes in and redirects everyone back to the task at hand. It is amazing to see how nice professional cyperpeople can become controlling monsters in space! Do they realize they are in the process of dying as they slam angry words back and forth?

One of my new nursing jobs included going back to a facility where I had previously been the supervisor. I returned as a regular staff nurse, but was met with some animosity and distrust because I had been the "boss" a couple years earlier. I understood the wariness but didn't expect the same staff I had worked so well with before to be insulting and rude now. I finally left that job because I realized that courtesy and respect had been replaced by greed and selfishness.


I really needed the money that job provided and at first I trusted that the staff meant me no harm, but soon things were said and done that could affect my nursing license. Maybe I should have been bold and rude and stood my ground, but I believe in living each day as if I might die tonight. I think those nurses have forgotten they are dying too.

Something much better is waiting for me around the corner, my angel assures me.

At another job, I really liked the afternoon staff. I had applied for the position because of a sign-on bonus and was willing to put up with any of the nasty conditions that nursing homes are known for. Most nurses don't like working in nursing homes but this one was clean and had high standards. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the job was.

Then, I noticed bad vibes between two administrators. Every day I would see one more episode in the saga of power and management. These were two professionals who expected harmony and trust from the employees but couldn't give it to each other. They worked in a facility where people are in the last years of life and where death comes softly all the time. This man and woman had forgotten they are on the same short path of life and death and soon none of this will matter.

Every day or so there's a note at the nurses station regarding a family member who isn't allowed to visit anymore. The family member who gets POA decides who can visit and who can't. I once took care of a man in his 50's who had a stroke and was in a vegetative state with a feeding tube. This man's wife dictated that his own mother could only visit three times a week for one hour at a time.

The wife was hardly ever there, but the crippled mother hobbled in every other day and someone waited outside in a car while she spent a few moments with her son. She read the paper to him or fussed with his hair. Sometimes she forgot her hour was up and the driver would come in and yell at her because he had to wait a few minutes extra.

In another situation, we got a note that a daughter could not visit her mother and we were to stop her if she came into the building. The daughter had gotten into an argument with her brother who was Power Of Attorney. Our patient was somewhat confused and keept asking us to call her daughter and see why she hadn't been in to bring her favorite foods and clean clothes. I told her the phone was broken.

It doesn't matter if you have been the president of the company, a great leader in our country or just worked hard all your life to support your family. What means the most is if you know you have done your best and are ready for that moment in time. All that is left are the memories that people have of you. Those who hold your hand will and remember your touch and the good you did for others.


Take Care On the (Short) Journey of Life,

Love, Linda

1 comment:

pete's bethist said...

God and the angels will surely hold your hand Linda! They are doing so now!
You are a nice soul. May you always have the strength to face your difficulties everyday! And may others be inspired by just being with you...