1. Read Katherine Mannix’s book ‘With the end in mind’. It helped me, enormously, in facing my death anxiety and fear of nursing the dying patient. It taught me what a privilege it is to be able to be there for someone’s last moments, to hold their hand and tell them you’re there with them as their breathing changes and their pulse slows.
2. Read up on syringe drivers. They are there to give long lasting pain relief and ease symptoms such as nausea, agitation, fits, excess secretions and breathing problems. They work extremely well in allowing the patient to manage their symptoms at any stage of treatment.
3. Talk to your mentor about your fears, anxieties, concerns and questions. If they don’t understand or support you, change mentor! This is an important part of your nurse education, don’t let a bad mentor ruin it. My mentor in the hospice taught me that there is no need to rush the after-death process (in the hospice patients can stay in their rooms for four hours after death). Last offices are special, talking to the patient as you do it, really helps and is cathartic.
4. When a younger person dies the final few days or hours can be very different from an elderly patients’ final days and hours. The phrase ‘dying on your feet’ resonates well with me. It can be much harder to deal with on a personal level, use reflection and speak to people around you about any death that has affected you. I have an incredibly supportive family and often speak to fellow student nurses so we can ‘off-load’ together.
5. The families, friends and loved ones of the dying patient will always remember how you treated and spoke to them and the patient. In a world where you can choose to be anything, always be kind.
About Emma Jackson
Emma is a 3rd year student nurse currently on placement in a hospice. In the first year of her training, she was not looking forward to looking after dying patients. With the support of mentors over the duration of her placements, she put in an expression of interest for a final year placement in a hospice. You can follow her on Twitter.