As a palliative medicine nurse coordinator, I have the privilege of being with dying patients and their families. I remember a patient in her mid-40s, who was dying of metastatic cancer. Her husband had cared for her throughout her illness.
He listened as the physician and I explained the situation. His wife’s disease had advanced to the point where no treatments or medicines could make her better, and she was nearing the end of her life. We asked him the question we always ask: “From your perspective, what is the best care possible for her now?”
Without hesitation, he said he wanted her to have comfort and peace, and to be relieved of pain, shortness of breath and anxiety. He agreed with our medical recommendation of comfort-focused treatment and medication.
Then he said, “The chaplain came earlier this morning; she spoke with us and read some words from a book. This sounds weird, but I felt a weight lift off my chest. After that, I was able to tell my wife that it will be OK; that she can rest and get ready to see her grandmother again. Since then, I’ve been at peace.”
Each time I visited the patient’s room that day, her husband’s talk would circle back to how the chaplain’s visit brought him peace, even in the midst of grief. It helped him cope with what was to come. I believe that retelling the story was his expression of gratitude.
As medical professionals, we’re often focused on the right treatment or medication to help our patients, which is necessary to provide the best care. In times like this I’m reminded that in the art and science of medicine, it’s things like being present, listening, and (sometimes) letting things be without striving for a fix that are vitally important. These are sometimes what makes a significant difference for patients, their families, and ourselves.
Submitted by Deborah Rivera, RN.