When Death is Knocking: Caring for Patients in Their Final Moments


The basics.

Caring for a dying patient can be very difficult and emotionally unsettling. You may not know what to say, how to act, or help them along at their end of their journey. As your patient reaches the end of their time, your duty as their nurse encompasses being present, providing comfort, and reassuring him or her with soothing words and actions that help maintain their comfort and dignity as he or she approaches death. Knowledge of the basic skills required to care for people who are dying can improve the patients’ and their family’s experience of death greatly. The first thing to remember is that communicating with a dying patient and their family is key. You cannot understand what your patient wants or what can make them happy in their last days if you do not take the time to listen to them.

Don’t withhold information.

It may be very hard telling the patient’s family that the patient is going to die. However, it must be done. It is always best to inform the family of any complications or facts you have concerning their loved one, especially when you know death is a factor. It is always a smart idea to share this information with the patient’s family, so they know how much time they have left with their loved one and can prepare accordingly for what is to come.  The family’s insight into the patient’s condition should be assessed and issues relating to dying and death explored appropriately and sensitively. The family should be told that the patient is dying and will die. Beating around the bush and using ambiguous language such as “may not get better” can lead to misinterpretation and confusion, which may just cause frustration and more depression among the members of the family.

More helpful tips and stories about family’s and their appreciation for knowing their loved one is dying can be found here.

Eliminate unnecessary discomforts.

While your patient nears death, they will start to experience pain and discomforts. It is extremely important to accommodate to the physical comfort of your patient. If he or she is in pain, focus on relieving that pain for them whether that’s with pain medication or extra pillows. Once their pain is eliminated they can draw their final thoughts towards something more important. Aside from physical comfort, you should also be very attentive to your patients emotional needs.

Good vibes welcomed.

It is very likely that a dying patient will embody feelings of hopelessness and depression. If you do not have the time to sit and talk with them or just listen to their thoughts, try and contact a counselor or family member to help them carry through and ease their final worries. It is also very encouraged to try and take the dying patient’s mind off of all the negative thoughts or regrets he or she may be having. As a traveling hospice nurse, show your patient that you have all of their best interests at heart. Take their mind off the negative thoughts that may be embodying their minds and ask them about what they have always enjoyed in life while and try to recreate a specific moment that made them feel a certain way. For example, if they enjoyed relaxing at the beach maybe play a peaceful type of music or ocean waves for them in their room so they can mentally go back to that time they felt the best.

Help ease their worried minds by asking questions such as:

  • where they grew up
  • how many siblings they have
  • did they marry/ have children?
  • have they traveled? If so, where have they been?

Spiritual healing.

As the patients timing comes to an end it is extremely essential to accommodate all of their spiritual needs and/or requests. Their religious and spiritual views are very sensitive topics, which reflect their entire cultural and lifelong beliefs. Do not leave spiritual requests unattended.

Insightful FAQs leading up to death.

Some questions you may want to ask your patient to make him or her feel more at ease with what will happen when, or as, they depart are

  1. How are you doing? Do you need someone to talk with?
  2. Would you like to go out for an hour or two? I could stay here while you are away.
  3. Who has offered to help you? Do you want me to work with them to coordinate our efforts?
  4. Can I help, maybe … calling a family member, finding old photos for you, etc.

There are more helpful suggestions and guidelines given in order to help provide your patient with full and proper care while he or she is dying here.

Just care.

Most importantly, just be sure to meet all the requests of your dying patient. Try to relieve them from a death-denying experience in their last couple of days on Earth– make it your goal to make their last days enjoyable. If you just take some time to get to know your patient during his or her last couple of days, they may leave you with a different outlook on your own life and aspire you to do something you’ve always wanted to.

Author: Travel Nurse Source

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