Ask any nurse, in any area of practice (ICU, labor & delivery, oncology, pediatrics, etc...) and they will tell you they see a lot of things in their line of work. Good, bad, hard, sad, sweet, and sometimes funny. This week at work I saw something I had never seen before. Something that really touched me.
Our palliative care team was consulted to see a patient who was no longer responsive, and was dying imminently. Specifically, we were asked to help with ensuring she was comfortable.
The patient's daughter was at the bedside and told us what had been going on with her mom over the last 36 hours. She described a rapid decline that made us think the patient likely had hours to perhaps a few days to live. I think I have mentioned before, in previous posts on end of life care, how very difficult it is to prognosticate with great accuracy how much time someone has left. For this patient, we changed medications, reviewed with the daughter what was being done and why, and gave them some time alone.
When we came back about an hour later, the patient appeared more comfortable, and her daughter agreed. Then suddenly the patients breathing pattern changed and we told her it appeared her mother was dying now. She took out her phone and called her brother, telling him "I want you to be part of this too, they say she is dying now". She held the phone to her mothers ear so her brother could tell his mom he loved her. Then she took the phone back and I could hear him tell his sister something. He wanted to hear her breathing. She again held the phone up, this time to her mothers mouth so her brother, who was far away, could hear his mom's last breaths. In that simple gesture he became present.
I have seen family members ask to speak to patients who are no longer responsive before. I have never had anyone ask to hear a loved one's breathing. It was an exquisitely tender moment. One I will be thinking about for some time to come.