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How to Nurse a Dying Patient

The minute we are born our body starts dying hence the term ‘The Dying Body’. And yet we all pray and hope that we never have to hear those dreaded words ‘There’s nothing more we can do for you.’

Like many things in your nursing career, caring for a dying patient is arguably the most challenging if not heart-wrenching tasks you’ll ever have to deal with. The experience will challenge every nursing fibre in you. Those in the know will tell you that it is irrelevant how long you have been a nurse for or how many patients have died before your very eyes. This undertaking is one of those life’s realities one never gets used to.

As a nurse caring for a patient under palliation your mind will twirl each time you go to them. Your heart will jolt as you wonder what on earth could be going on in their mind. If you’re one who like a bit of humour with your patients every now and again you know the timing couldn’t be more wrong. You simply don’t know what face to put on.

Each experience will be different. However, should you find yourself caring for a dying patient, here are some tips on how you can help yourself and more importantly your dying patient:

1) As much as therapeutic detachment is crucial in nursing in order to be able to ‘do more’ for the patient, you can forgive yourself for being upset and emotional at this time. After all you’re not made of steel!

2) If the patient wants to talk, remember IT IS enough to listen.

3) Don’t tell them something contrary to what the doctors have already told them. There’s a fine line between offering words of comfort and giving false hope.

4) Advocate on behalf of your patient. If they are in pain do your best to keep them as comfortable as possible. If they are distressed be there for them. Communicate their needs to the doctors, palliative care nurses as well as relatives and ensure that those needs are met.

5) If they have any spiritual or religious needs facilitate these needs by contacting a Pastor, Bishop or any relevant person. Furthermore, if they want to be at home for those final hours it is your job to work with members of the multidisciplinary team to facilitate that. Remember it’s not about you or their relatives- it’s about them!

6) Holistic care is particularly important at this time. Therefore, approach the patient as a whole person, considering support for the patient’s loved ones, reassuring them as much as you can.

7) When the time finally comes for them to breathe their last breath, respectfully give your patient and their relatives space to be with their loved one if that is their wish. Be available to offer support wherever possible.

8) When it’s all said and done all that matters is that you would’ve done your best for your patient.