In the 3 or so months I've been working at the GreatRep, 4 of my residents have died. Since I'm pretty new there, I haven't had a chance to form the long-term bonds with them that some of my coworkers have, so it hasn't affected me as deeply as it has for some of them.
This most recent one, Mr. 4, was the hardest for me personally. Partly because he and his wife were new to our facility and got there around the same time as I did. Partly because he went from being fine, to having a major health event and being sent out to the hospital, to coming home to us already on comfort care and ready to die. His family was pretty amazing; one of their adult children spent the night in the room with the parents the entire time. Mrs.4 really appreciated that, and I think it eased a lot of the burden on her. Mr.4 hung on for several days despite being NPO (nothing by mouth, including food or water). We turned him every 2 hours, kept him clean and comfortable, and his family watched him go through the whole process. Not just their children, but nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, the whole gang was there.
Providing care to someone who's dying takes on a whole new dimension when their family is there, watching you, sometimes crying, sometimes joking, just trying to maintain some kind of life during that limbo. It really drives home how your patient had a whole entire life and millions of experiences before this one, and it makes it sad that they have to end this way, with a slow dragging towards death.
Mr. 4 passed peacefully, and before he went I promised him we would take good care of his wife. It's hard to know what to say to someone who's just been widowed. Mrs. 4 knows what happened, her memory is still fairly intact. It's hard to force myself to reach out to her when I'm afraid that saying Mr. 4's name will make her sad. But she's already sad, and she knows we all cared for him before he went. So I keep making myself check in on her, ask how she's feeling, and so on.
I thought dealing with the dying people would be the hard part, but it's their families that I ultimately feel sad for.
So it made it all the sweeter when I went to Jimmy's wife's birthday party today and found out that she is no longer on hospice care! Mrs. Jimmy has held on so much longer and stronger than anyone anticipated, and I'm so glad that Jimmy won't have to face that loss in the immediate future after all. I got to tell him jokes and give him hugs and kisses and watch him hold his grandkids while his wife opened her gifts and ate her cake. Pretty nice to see death get interrupted.
(for newer readers, I wrote about Jimmy back when I first started this blog, here: http://scrubsandcrocs.blogspot.com/2010/07/authenticity.html ; I don't work at his facility or care for him through HomeCare anymore, but I'm in touch with his family so they invited me and my husband to the party today - yay!)