Monday, August 8, 2011

"Hold the phone up to her ear."

If you were expecting a typical comedic evaluation of the idiocies of life, tonight is not the night. Instead, I would like to tone it down and tell you about the process of death. More specifically, I want to tell you about being on the outside looking in, and then being invited inside.

My day started out with 7 patients being full code status (which means that they have requested CPR, medication intervention, etc. if they go into cardiac arrest). My day ended with 5 of those being full code, and one more considering converting to DNR status (do not resuscitate).  The other two had been switched to DNR during the morning, which was not a surprise to me.

I have an odd “gift”, I guess you could say, of being able to understand when someone is going to die. Not simply “oh yeah, they’re going to pass”, but to have an innate emotional sense of this. These two people, it was a complete shock to me to see that they were full codes. However, I do understand that family has a lot to do with that. I do. I get that.

The family of one patient came in to visit during late afternoon. The gentleman asked me if I could provide him with a telephone number of our unit so another family member might call in later that evening. This gentleman was anxious about the phone call because he felt it wasn’t going to go anywhere, seeing as the patient was non-verbal and in a vegetative state. I handed him our unit card, and told him quietly, “Hold the phone up to her ear. You would be surprised to know what people can hear.”

He stared at me. “Really? Do you think she could really hear?” I told him, “Yes, sir, I really do believe she will be able to hear.” His face softened, and I could see about a zillion pounds being released from his shoulders.

As I was leaving for the night, I passed the family sitting in the hall. I stopped to gently remind them to let the nurse know that they were expecting a phone call (I already had, too), and to ask for help if they needed it. There was an explosion of emotion on the part of the family, and I knelt down to comfort them. A close family member asked me how I knew such things, during our conversation, and I told her that I was not only a volunteer with a hospice program, but that I wanted to become a hospice nurse. I would hold the phone up many times for people that were unable to speak or move, and could see the peace that it brought.

As I held hands with the family members and spoke softly with them, I could see that it just takes a touch, a few minutes of time, and actual caring and heart during such a rough moment in their lives.  Isn’t that amazing, what those of us in healthcare can offer those in need? A quiet “Thank you for listening” had me in tears all the way back to the car.

Hospitals can be cold, lonely, isolating places. Nurses and CNAs whisk around like their tails are on fire, giving meds, taking orders, checking ventilators, doing dressing changes… it is so easy to overlook the anguish that I can actually see seeping from underneath that striped curtain.

Death is everywhere. I challenge those of you in healthcare: Hold a hand. Offer a box of tissue. Touch an elbow. Make that eye contact. Show the patients and their families that you GET IT. Show them that YOU HAVE TIME for them.

That is going to be us one day.


  1. Thank you for what you do. What you provide to the families is priceless. You are a kind soul.

  2. I love that you are so empathetic. Its why we are friends


  3. Good for you kiddo. Hospitals can be harsh, lonely places indeed.

    We went to hospice to see my FIL. It amazed me just how many people that were ending their lives there had absolutely no one around them save staff. sometimes when Doug was with his dad there I'd go and visit others who had no one. It was tragic.