November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month which is a time to honor hospice physicians, nurses, therapists and social workers who make a difference for the patients and families they care for. Hospice caregivers who selflessly serve the community’s aged, disabled and dying are celebrated during this month for their continued service to helping the weakest patients live the fullest lives they can.
My name is Sharon and I’m a hospice and palliative nurse, but it hasn’t always been so.
When I came to Reno in 1998, my first job at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center was on the Medical Oncology floor. I’d been out of nursing school for almost a year and had experience at a hospital in Santa Rosa on a neurosurgical floor and was cross-trained in orthopedics. I moved from Medical Oncology to the Critical Care Unit where I worked for many years as a bedside nurse and then as a unit supervisor. How did I end up working in end of life care? The answer to this is complicated, but also obvious. Throughout my nursing career, I worked in end of life care. It just wasn’t called that. I offered comfort and even loving kindness to strangers, alone in a bed and dying during the end of their lives. When hospice affected my own family, it was a deeply personal and spiritual experience, which helped lead me to my chosen career path.
In the type of nursing I have done, both oncology and critical care, I cared for patients at the end of life. They were either placed on comfort care or compassionate withdrawal of care, many because they did not survive an acute emergency medical conditions. I’ve seen many patients die alone in a hospital bed while I was there, holding their hand, a stranger offering them comforting words and giving them permission to die. I’ve also seen people not realize they had a choice in how they wanted to live their final days, and have made it my own personal mission to educate people on what their choices were as a Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse.
I have taken care of five of my own family members on hospice, long before entering this field of medicine. The reasons for being on service were as individual as they themselves were. One had end stage renal failure. Two died from cancer. Another, with an acute head injury. All died at home, surrounded by family, in their own beds. All were hospitalized prior to receiving end of life care at home. The time on hospice ranged from days to almost a year and a half.
End of life care with the help of a hospice agency is such a gift. Instead of dying in the hospital, surrounded by strangers, dressed in unfamiliar clothing and in an unfamiliar bed, my loved ones have died at home with their family at their side. End of life care with hospice, which happens wherever a person calls home, is all about respect, dignity and comfort. The entire team available to an individual and their family – the physician(s), nursing staff, nurse’s aides, social workers, chaplains and volunteers – are there to provide expert advice and assistance. That fact that a nurse is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is simply marvelous, and as a family member, I can say that it was a relief to know help was a phone call away. Every one of my family members had their wishes honored at the end of life. Each passed peacefully in their own beds. I consider this the greatest gift I can offer a loved one and am grateful to have had the honor of caring for them all.
In this season of love, please consider having a conversation with your own family members about what their choices would be, when they near the end of life. It is your gift to each other to have this conversation ahead of time, the opportunity to share in what can be a very spiritual and loving discussion about goals of care.
Wishing all a holiday filled with love and the peace of the season,
Sharon Brown, RN, CHPN
Saint Mary’s Hospice of Northern Nevada
Saint Mary’s Hospice invites the community for their Annual Tree Lighting Service at 6000 Bartley Ranch Road in Reno on December 9 at 6:00 p.m. Additionally, their Annual Tree Lighting Service in Carson City will be on December 10 at 6:00 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on 300 S. Division Street. This is a time for reminiscence and celebration as families come together to remember their loved ones.