A nurse play a critical role in caring for a patient with a terminal illness. Nurses are expected to be objective, supportive, and compassionate to ease their pain. However, caring for a dying patient can be challenging. While patients rely on their families, they also rely on their nurses for physical and emotional support.
Nurse Olivia Neufelder, for example, is an inspiration to other nurses who also have their fair share of caring for a dying patient. Neufelder cared for Margaret Smith, a woman who was dying of cancer. Smith's daughter shared a video of Neufelder holding Margaret's hand while singing to her. For the Smith family, her level of dedication spoke volumes of the Neufelder's level of care.
Nursing normally cares for a dying patient, but most nurses find this challenging. Here are some guidelines on how to provide high quality care to terminally ill patients.
1. Provide physical comfort
A patient who is in the last phase of life needs help and comfort. Physically, for example, a terminally ill patient may lose a lot of weight, making it difficult for them to sit or lay in one position for a long period of time. Nurses can help the patient switch positions to make the body as comfortable as possible.
2. Provide emotional support
Patients who are terminally ill are fearful. They may not fear death itself, but they are scared of what comes next.. Providing emotional support is important in end-of-life care. Nurses must develop active listening skills to better understand the needs of the patient. Being responsive to emotional needs, being compassionate, maintaining a positive attitude, and providing comfort are major elements of emotional support.
3. Maintaining boundaries
While it is normal to develop some bond with the patient, you have to maintain professional boundaries. The nurse-patient relationship should be based on respect, trust, and professional intimacy. The care should be therapeutic and should focus only on the patient’s needs.
4. Provide support for the family
Sometimes, family members may cause stress and anxiety especially when they want to micromanage on patient care. Encourage family members to ask questions and be calm. Nurses should also acknowledge their fear and be compassionate to make them feel that they're respected too.
Tips for communicating with a dying patient: How to overcome this challenge
Communicating with dying patients can be challenging. For one, you must show empathy for proper communication. Proper communication between medical personnel and patients is important to maintain a relationship. This can also have a major impact on decision-making. To make communication more therapeutic, keep these tips in mind:
1. Proper timing:
Dealing with death can be frightening. Choosing the appropriate timing to speak with the patient is important. The goal of therapeutic communication is to provide support for the patient’s feeling towards acceptance of inevitable death.
While it can be challenging to maintain open communication regarding, the nurse should answer them honesty. The patient will rely on you, and they have the right to know everything about their condition.
3. Being present
There are cases where silence is helpful. Just being present and not saying anything can be the best form of communication. Holding hands, showing physical affection, and smiling demonstrate concern, support, and respect.
4. Start by talking about small things
Some patients may have difficulty in communicating. Sometimes they feel that it is not relevant to discuss their situation with other people. Nurses can start a small and less emotional talk to open a door for a more significant conversation.
5. Active listening
Active listening involves the context of understanding the feelings of the dying patient. Empathy is necessary for active listening. Four prerequisites are involved in active listening:
- The nurse wants to listen.
- The nurse acknowledges the patient’s feelings but must suspend any judgment.
- The nurse should encourage and acknowledge the patient’s expression of feelings.
- The nurse should be aware of their own feelings.
6. Being assertive
Being assertive is to express your feelings and thoughts without dismissing the patient’s rights. Assertiveness maintains effective communication and minimizes stressful situations.
7. Keep communicating
Communication is the foundation in a nurse-patient relationship. Therapeutic communication involves purposeful interaction and is focused on the patient. Always set motivated and realistic goals for the patient.
8. Supporting families
Acknowledge that the patient’s family is suffering too, and it can also be challenging to communicate with them. Like the patient, the family also has the right to be heard. Talk to the family through active listening. This means reflecting back what the family is trying to communicate. Keep eye contact, be realistic, and be honest.
Final thought: Death can be scary. But it's inevitable. Avoiding it will only make everything worse.
A strong bond usually develops between nurses and patients. Unfortunately, not all patients survive their illness despite the quality of care given. Losing a patient may be overwhelming for some nurses. However, nurses should learn coping mechanisms to deal with sadness and assist them in coping with patient’s death.
Death is inevitable, and it is not something that should be avoided by a professional. Death should not be feared. A nurse plays a vital role in end-of-life care. End-of-life can include recognizing changes in the patient's condition, offering support, and being compassionate to both the patient and their family. It might be emotional at first, but with the right skills, knowledge, and attitude, maximum care can be given and end-of-life care can be rewarding.
Photo source: CBS New York Local