End of life for nurses

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I rode the shuttle to the early sessions at the Oncology Nursing Society congress this morning, and my conversation with the nurse in the window seat has given me some new perspective on those nurses who are at the bedside of dying cancer patients.

We were chatting about which sessions we had attended. Well, actually, I was sort of interviewing her about what she had learned from the meeting, when I saw from her badge that she was a first-time attendee.

She said that the poster sessions, where nurse researchers make large posters of their studies, gave her some great ideas that could easily be transferred to her hospital and her job. When I asked what role she served, she said she was a bedside hematology nurse in the stem cell transplant area, and a good portion of her time was spent with very sick patients and their families.

Because I know that this area is also one with a high mortality rate, I asked her which of the sessions she had attended and, not unexpectedly, she said she had attended the pre conference workshop on end of life. This overflow workshop explored the issues surrounding that time of transition from this world to the next, and, for those nurses who experience end of life more often in their jobs, it brings with it the need for special skills and the ability to self heal.

I can’t imagine how hard it is to keep an open heart to the pain of being present for your patients’ deaths and then be expected to walk to the next room where a patient is preparing to go home.

This nurse was struggling with the challenge of creating the relationship needed to spend the last week of a patient’s life with them when she wanted to be part of the whole continuum of care. She was looking for ways to spend more time with her dying patients and the family.

On that short bus ride, I saw once again how oncology nurses constantly think about ways to be closer to their patients. We parted ways with her talking about how she would share what she had learned with the other nurses in her area when she returned.

Wow.

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