Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I have a whole new level of respect for the Hospice care team after my recent rotation with a nurse at a local center. Don't get me wrong, I've always known they do a great job in an incredibly hard type of nursing. I just didn't realize how difficult and involved their jobs were.

The nurse I shadowed was Superwoman in scrubs, I swear to you. She was the most compassionate person I've ever met. I mentioned how I didn't think I could ever work Hospice, because I'm far too emotional to handle my patients only coming to me when death is imminent. I've always been told that the whole point of medicine is to save people, to cure them, or to fix them up until next time. The point of hospice? To help people die with dignity.

This is almost too much for me. I'm the type of person who cries at anything even remotely sad. Which is why I'm doing ER (hopefully), because I can take care of my acutely ill patient with as much compassion as possible, and then send them on to someone else who can help them with their bigger issues. How can I possibly handle knowing my patients most likely won't live past 6 months or a year?

After talking with her, however, I have come to see that the point of medicine isn't always to delay death. Sometimes it's to let death take the patient, but on their own terms. One thing she said to me is that yes, you'll become attached to your patients. But instead of thinking of their death as a loss, try to think of it as you being allowed to be a part of a hugely important phase in their time here, and that you're providing the dignity and stability they need to transition as smoothly as possible.

While I still don't think I could handle working in Hospice - at least not for another few decades or so - I do know that the people who can work it are some of the most amazing people out there. Props to them.

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