Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sudden Death or a Gradual Passing?

None of us knows exactly how and when we will die. But most hospice patients are aware that death is approaching. Hospice care works to ensure that the death process is as pain free as possible. Patient comfort is the top priority. In addition to physical comfort, hospice provides patients and families with emotional and spiritual counsel.

The gradual path to the end of life is the preferred method of hospice care. Our hospice often receives calls from family members to provide care at the very end of life—often during the patient’s final few days or even final few hours. Ideally, a patient, caregiver and other loved ones will have a longer period of time with hospice care—several weeks or several months. This allows the patient and loved ones to talk about what’s coming and to say goodbyes.

The recent passing of former St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial was, according to comments from family members, a peaceful death with no discomfort. According to reports, his family members and select friends were able to say goodbye.

On the same day that Stan Musial died peacefully, at the end of a steady decline, others in St. Louis and across the US died suddenly. Heart attacks, aneurisms and other causes led to deaths that were unexpected and left many loved ones stunned. Family members and friends did not have the opportunity to say goodbye…until the funeral.

Some people have said that they would prefer a quick passing: no lingering illnesses, no extended stays in hospitals and care facilities, no drawn-out months-long anguish for family and friends. Of course, as the opening sentence states, none of us knows exactly how and when we will die.

At Hope Hospice, we tailor our services to the patient’s condition and needs. Some of our new patients are at death’s doorstep while other new patients may be months away from passing. We are sometimes surprised by a patient’s sudden, sooner-than-expected death. Other times, we are amazed that a patient lives well beyond expectations.

Despite the many years of experience among our Hope Hospice staff members, we are not always able to comprehend all the mysteries of life and death. We do know that we provide a needed service that makes end-of-life as comfortable and peaceful as possible.

If you wish to learn more about Hope Hospice, call us anytime at 314-984-9800.

An Appreciation of Hospice Nurses

Can we ever say enough about how much our nurses and home health aides provide to our patients and their families?

Theirs is a job that can be rewarding and fulfilling in many ways, but can also be stressful and exhausting. Involving one’s self in the lives of patients and family members is a necessary element of hospice nursing. Yet, at the same time, a hospice nurse must maintain a professional demeanor.

Hospice nurses have the authority to make important decisions regarding a patient’s treatment and welfare. But each hospice nurse is also part of a collaborative team. A significant part of a hospice nurse’s job is sharing information about each patient with other hospice team members, not only during weekly meetings but also by filling out appropriate paperwork.

In addition to taking care of patients, hospice nurses also work closely with family members. Acknowledging cultural differences, monitoring internal family dynamics and respecting family members’ struggles to accept their loved one’s death are major parts of a hospice nurse’s work. For many hospice patients, the main caregiver is a family member. It is of utmost importance that a hospice nurse be able to communicate clearly with all caregivers.

Because a hospice nurse generally works with several patients, time management is a serious concern. A routine patient visit can reveal issues that need to be addressed immediately. Schedules must be adjusted on short notice. Workdays are often extended by several hours.

At Hope Hospice, we know that it takes a special individual to be a good hospice nurse. In addition to top-notch basic nursing skills, a hospice nurse must possess good people skills. He or she must have compassion for the patient and the patient’s family and other loved ones. But the nurse must also be able to be direct and honest when necessary.

It is a tough and demanding job. Some hospice nurses suffer from burnout. Others may experience a condition known as “compassion fatigue.” But with strong support from other hospice team members, including hospice leadership, being a hospice nurse can be a personally gratifying experience.

At Hope Hospice, we value our nurses and respect the dedication they put into their work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do More People Die in January?

The answer is Yes. Figures from the National Center for Health Statistics confirm it. Using data collected from 1995-2002, we see that January is the #1 month for deaths in the US, based on the average number of deaths per day.

#2 is February. December is 3rd, followed by March. Flu season, which peaks during the cold weather months, is a significant factor. But is there more to it than that? We at Hope Hospice believe there is.

Do cold and ice cause more accidental deaths? No, more deaths from accidents occur in summer. One might assume that shorter periods of daylight might cause depression that could lead to suicide. But suicides occur more often in in summer. That is empirical information based on statistics.

Our thoughts on the reason for a spike in the number of passings in winter months are anecdotal, that is, not taken from statistical information. This supposition is based on our experience with patients and, yes, with our own family members.

We believe that many people who die in January and February are those who simply willed themselves to live through the holidays. They wanted to enjoy one more Thanksgiving with loved ones or one more Christmas with kids and grandkids. Once the holidays have passed, that will to live is diminished.

Can a person with a terminal illness choose to stay alive or die? We have witnessed numerous patients whose gradual decline seemed to slow down as the holidays were approaching. Then the decline resumes after Christmas.

There are medical experts who believe that patients cannot postpone death, but our staff members have seen it happen. The human spirit is an amazing thing.

We at Hope Hospice have experienced the seasonal January-February increase in declines and deaths during years past and will not be surprised should it occur again in 2013. We will be there for our patients and their loved as the new year begins.