At 10-years old Caitlin Kennedy had dreams of being writer, then a nurse. She didn’t know she wanted to be a hospice nurse until her grandfather became ill and, eventually, received hospice care, “When I saw the way the nurses cared for my grandfather, I just knew I wanted to do that for someone else.” Being a hospice nurse, first and foremost, is about emotional support and being an empathetic listener. It’s about anticipating needs. The end of life journey is different for everyone. It’s an emotional job filled with both joy and sadness. There are days when you need to step back and breathe, cry, talk, or just sit alone. Caitlin smiled, “What people don’t know about hospice nurses is that we go home and cry too. Your loved one is our loved one. There isn’t one patient or family that I don’t remember.”
During any given day, Caitlin may see five to six patients. She offered, “One of the reasons I love my job is because I get to teach. There are a lot of misconceptions about hospice. Not everyone understands morphine is used to help patients breathe easier as well as treat pain. Another thing people don’t realize is that patients can go on and off hospice. Patients can change their minds. It’s more common than you think.” Something else many people don’t know is that there are times when a patient’s condition improves, to the point hospice services aren’t needed. Sometimes patients “graduate” from hospice. Hospice is about improving the quality of a patient’s life and allowing the patient to enjoy each day with dignity.
When asked how she handles the emotional and physical demands of nursing, Caitlin replied, “You have to understand self-care. For me, I sink myself into my family at night. It recharges me and helps me stay strong. My colleagues are my rock, sometimes you just need to talk to someone who really gets it, who wears the shoes, and can relate to you in the moment. A relaxing bubble bath doesn’t hurt either. I do what I need to do to stay grounded so I can be there for my patients, their families and my team.”
When it comes to patient centered care, love, compassion and dignity navigate a day in the life of a hospice nurse.