If someone you love is going into hospice care, these tips on how to help a hospice patient will give you an insider’s perspective. Knowing what your loved one is going through will help you take care of them until the end.
“Having been a hospice patient, I learned very quickly that the people caring for you find it easy to speak to you as a client or patient and not a dying human being,” says Michael R. Ivy, RN. “They talk around you, through you, but not with you…I do not want to appear callous towards those caregivers because they do an important and difficult job. But, being a hospice patient has changed my perspective.”
Michael has experienced both sides of hospice care – as a Registered Nurse and as a patient. Here, he shares a little of what he’s learned about life, dying, and hospice death. His insights will help you learn how to help hospice patients, and may even give you ideas on how to make dying more peaceful for you and your loved one.
How to Help a Hospice Patient
These tips are also helpful if you’re supporting a loved one who is receiving end of life care at home. Hospice or palliative doesn’t necessarily mean being in a formal healthcare setting. You can offer hospice care in the comfort of the patient’s own home.
Everyone has his or her own dying process. “What I know now, that I wish I knew then, is, that every person has their own dying process,” says Michael. “It is their journey and no one alive knows what it is like to reach the end.” He adds that death and dying are very real and intense experiences – and no matter how strong your loved one (or hospice patient) appears, they are afraid. Helping hospice patients includes accepting and being open to talking about all their emotions.
Hospice care and death brings feelings of isolation. Michael’s experience with confronting death as a hospice patient made him feel alienated, alone, and cast aside like no one really cared. “It is the patient’s moment, their trials and tribulation with the inevitable,” he says. “Who am I to cast my views, ideas, the myriad treatment modalities on them?” He adds that most of the time, hospice patients just want you to know they were scared of death. It helps when you try to allay their fears, and ease the pain and curiosity of their impending death.
The difficulties of the health care system affect the dying process. Right now, the great injustice dying patients (in or out of hospice care) are faced with now is the lack of proper analgesic or pain management treatment. “The Feds are prosecuting doctors for improper pain management such as pain clinics, patients abusing narcotics, and nationwide addiction. As a result, hospice patients aren’t receiving pain management medications the way they used to.” Michael says that some hospice patients experience excruciating pain because the physician fears repercussions, such as lawsuits, from the Feds. Knowing how to help a hospice patient is being aware of how to manage pain effectively.
Death will always catch you by surprise – even the death of a hospice patient. No matter how prepared you think you are for your loved one’s death, no matter how much counseling you’ve received, no matter how strong your faith, nothing can prepare you for that moment when your loved one breathes their last breath. Michael has watched family members jump in the bed with their loved ones, scream, cry, yell, and express a wide range of emotions while begging the love one not to go. “It can be gut- wrenching,” he says. “No matter how ready family members say they are, nobody wants to lose a loved one.”
Hospices and hospital nurses aren’t apathetic to death. Michael remembers the faces he’s covered with sheets, the bodies he transferred to the morgue, the patients he performed CPR. “As I age and since my recent bout with near death, I’ve become haunted by the incidence and faces of the dead,” he says. “They come to me more… and it is unsettling.”
Talk about how to help a hospice patient. Research death, talk about hospice care with your family and children, and even celebrate your loved ones by memorializing their lives. Read books about helping hospice patients, such as Living at the End of Life: A Hospice Nurse Addresses the Most Common Questions by Karen Whitley Bell, RN. Visit blogs for hospice care and dying people – especially those that you feel a connection with.
“Our bodies are just shells of who we really are,” says Michael. “We will all be together again in the vast dust clouds of stellar nurseries. From star dust we are born, and to star dust we return…death is just part of life.”
If you have any thoughts or questions on how to help a hospice patient, please comment below.
Michael R. Ivy is an RN by profession and works part-time as a nurse consultant. He owns Ivy Leaf Film Productions Inc. and is an accomplished musician. He writes and composes all the music scores for his films, weddings, commercials, and music videos, and has written five novels, a myriad of articles, short stories, screenplays and scripts. To connect with him, visit his blog.