Nurses just ‘know’ what to do

After the passing of my step father I experienced first hand what so many family members have expressed to me after their loved ones slip away. A sense of gratitude and praise for all the efforts made by the nursing staff who ensured that their relatives passing was pain free, peaceful and dignified.

In all my years of nursing I have always found it such a privilege to look after people in their last moments. It feels to me just as special to be present at the end of life as it is to witness a birth.

Only this time I got to see if from a family members perspective, not as a nurse.

I chose not to tell the staff that I was a nurse whilst they were caring for my stepfather. I didn’t want to get the nurse to nurse conversation surrounding his imminent passing.  I wanted to be treated like a any other relative as I waited with my family members for him to slip away. I not only allowed them to care for him but I allowed them to care for all of us who were with him in the days leading up to his passing.

What I noticed from the bedside was how skilled the nursing staff were – not only in the physical expertise they displayed whilst caring for a palliative patient – but in the subtle ways in which they interacted with both my step father and our family members over the 5 days we were with him.

They instinctively knew when to talk to us and when to be quiet. They knew when to reach out a hand and when not to touch. They knew when to give us some space, when we needed support, or when we to inform us about what was happening. They sensed when it was okay to make light of the situation and with whom.

Seeing all this made me proud to be a nurse. It made me value and appreciate the depth of understanding nurses display along with the many unspoken ways in which they communicate on a daily basis. It made me realise that you cannot really be taught how to respond to the needs of patients or relatives in these sensitive situations. These skills are learnt through observation, participation and caring for many people over a long period of time.

I am grateful for the chance to see things from another perspective. I hope it reminds you all as nurses or carers of the power of investing in what you do so well. Don’t lose sight of why you became nurses in the first place. And above all, remember that the small things you do every day will often be etched in the hearts and minds by those sitting by the bedside without you even knowing it.