A nurse has shared her emotional account of accompanying a patient as they approached the end of their life.
She has been supporting her colleagues in caring for patients who have contracted the virus.
On a recent shift, Fliss helped care for a patient, who the trust has called ‘Sue’, as she approached the end of her life. Fliss stayed by her side, comforting her and holding her hand until she died.
After her shift, Fliss decided to write a first-hand account of her experiences that day to help her come to terms with what had happened.
Fliss said: “I’ve been a qualified nurse for 13 years and working in oncology, I’ve gained a lot of experience in communicating during difficult situations, and this is one of those occasions where I was able to put these into practice.
“After sitting with Sue, I was approached by the Chaplain who asked how I usually deal with my emotions, and I would usually talk and offload in that way.
“However, this was a different situation and I felt like I needed to write an account of what had taken place.”
Fliss’ account has touched colleagues with whom she has shared it with, and hopes that her emotional reflections can give others the strength to speak up and seek help should they need it.
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She said: “I quite openly admit that I will be seeking extra support to help me process my time working back on the wards, and I hope that my account gives others the strength to speak up, too.”
Fliss’ reflections are shared in full below:
Today could possibly be one of the most upsetting days of my nursing career, and I have worked in oncology for the last three-and-a-half years.
I offered my support to colleagues in other departments during the pandemic, but after today, I now doubt myself as I feel emotionally drained.
For the nurses that have done it for nearly the past year I take my hat off to you, you are all amazing. I was alerted by a lovely nursing assistant that Sue’s saturations were low and she was on the highest amount of oxygen that can be given on the ward.
Using my knowledge from caring for a previous patient, I learnt that if you manage to tilt the patient right onto their side, it helps expand their lungs and makes breathing easier.
I spoke to the sister in charge and asked if she could point the medical team in the direction of Sue first.
A lovely doctor reviewed Sue and suggested we give her some morphine and, following my suggestion, some levopromazine, to assist with some agitation as Sue was becoming anxious regarding her breathing.
Sue previously had a discussion and expressed that she didn’t want to be resuscitated or go to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
I sat with Sue whilst the morphine and levopromazine took effect. Sue asked me what was going to happen and asked me to be honest with her.
How could I tell someone they were going to die?
I held Sue’s hand tight and explained that if her breathing gets any worse, her body wouldn’t be able to cope any more. Sue looked petrified. I held her hand and just looked down.
Sue asked me what it’s like when you die. My first thought was to call for the chaplain. I replied and told Sue I didn’t know, but I told her what I like to think happens. The following is my visualization of heaven.
When you die, you don’t really die. You go to heaven and meet all the people you have lost during your life. It’s a much better place up there, no more pain or suffering. It’s lovely and warm and you can eat the cake you want.
Sue smiled at my response.
Just then a lovely doctor came in so we asked her what her interpretation of death was.
She told us of a patient she had cared for – a man who had a cardiac arrest and he was angry as they had managed to resuscitate him.
He explained to the doctor that after death it was like a warm blanket.
The chaplain arrived and once again we listened to her representation of afterlife.
The chaplain explained she was a Christian and believed in God and the she believes our names are written on God’s palms of his hands and he loves us all dearly.
The lovely doctor, probably one of the most compassionate doctors I had met, had been updating the family the whole time.
She had arranged a Zoom call so Sue’s family could say bye to their mum. I can’t even imagine the pain and heartbreak this caused them.
The pain and tears you could see in their eyes was absolutely heart breaking. You could tell the family didn’t want to end the call, but Sue said she had had enough.
We gave Sue some more medication to help ease her breathing. She just kept telling me she was scared, but I promised Sue I would not leave her side.
She said she was too scared to sleep. I didn’t have an answer, but I said if your body is telling you to sleep, go to sleep – all the while knowing full well she would die if she did.
The lovely doctor came in the room and we just sat either side of Sue holding her hands and we gave Sue some further medication.
I didn’t want Sue to be this anxious. Sue remained conscious until the end, possibly the first time I have ever witnessed this.
As she took her last breaths, I told her she was one of the bravest ladies I had met.
Throughout my whole time with Sue, she never shed tear. After her last breath, I let go of her hand and said goodbye.
I am used to people dying and talking about death, but this broke me. Never have I told someone their death was soon to come and a couple of hours later they take their last breath.
Well, Sue, I have felt honoured to care for you today and will never forget the conversation we had about heaven. I hope you’re up there now eating loads of cake.
Rest in peace you absolutely amazing lady.