Sunday, September 26, 2004

The Lonely and Laughing Death Maiden - 5/6/04

So I am on a theme of digging up old posts from another site that I'm moving here. This one is the story of how the name of this blog came about...

I got teased today at work that I am a death maiden. Last night, when I came onto shift, I asked to work with one of the palliative care patients who was on our floor. Right as the day shift nurses were finishing up giving us report on our patients, a nurse came in to let me know that my palliative care patient had died. The patient was estranged from his family, so no one was at the bedside. His needs would be entirely limited to post-mortem care. I don’t mind doing post-mortem care, but I am much more interested in the psychosocial aspects of helping patients face their mortality and helping family members cope with loss. I was sad for this patient that he had died alone and while still estranged from his family, and also disappointed that I hadn’t had an opportunity to work with him.

So then tonight (well, is it still tonight when it is 2am?)… I came onto shift and requested to work with a different palliative care patient. Right after report, I started doing my initial rounds just checking in on each of my patients. I walked into this patient’s room and… she was no longer breathing. I listened and she had no heart sounds. Her family lives very far away; so again, there was no one at her bedside. So for the second night in a row, my job was limited to post-mortem care (though I did call the family and talk to them briefly over the phone).

When a new palliative care patient was then admitted to our floor, another nurse admitted the patient. She teased me, “Please don’t go into my patient’s room. I’d kind of like to keep him around – at least until the end of my shift.”

I had been really frazzled working with my other patients who had numerous issues going on. Still in a frenzy, I tried to convince her, “I think it’s just my very calming and peaceful energy that is reassuring and makes them feel safe enough to let go.” I had been joking, as my energy was far from peaceful and calm at that moment. But I think she thought I must be serious, as she didn’t laugh.

So they sent me home early, hoping to keep the rest of our patients alive.

That was supposed to be a funny ending, but actually, I volunteered to go home early. We were over-staffed and I was happy to sneak away. Maybe this work is twisting my sense of humor. Though how could it not? Emotions around death are bound to run high in whatever form they are able to escape.

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