Care Dimensions nurse Nancy Drago listens to the heart of a hospice patient at his home.
As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a nurse. As a child, I admired a close family friend who was a nurse who told me her work was rewarding because every day she had the opportunity to improve patients’ lives by providing quality health care. Recognizing my interest in nursing, she gave me one of her nursing text/workbooks the summer before I entered high school. Every day that summer I read this book and worked on the assignments as best I could independently. I was fascinated about the nursing field and could not wait to become a nurse.
Unfortunately, nursing school was not in my parents’ budget, so after graduating high school, I entered the workforce and later got married and had children. My plan was always to go back to nursing school once my children were older, and in 2014, I graduated from Lawrence Memorial/Regis College of Nursing. I could hardly wait to begin this new and exciting chapter in life that I had dreamed of since I was a child.
I began my nursing career at a small skilled nursing/rehab facility as a floor nurse and then as a charge nurse where I gained much experience caring for patients with various acuity levels, including hospice patients. It was then that I was introduced to and had the pleasure of working with several Care Dimensions team members who provided hospice care for some of our patients.
Learning how hospice helps
I saw how hospice brings comfort to patients and families when curative care is no longer possible. My professional experiences with Care Dimensions led me to hold the highest respect for hospice nursing because of the significant value and quality of life it provides to patients and their families facing end of life. A very personal experience led me to realize that hospice nursing was my true passion.
In March 2018, my husband was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of ALS, which took his life just five months later at the age of 60. I cared for him at home but as his disease progressed, his neurologist recommended hospice. Given my prior professional experience with Care Dimensions, there was no question that this was the only organization I would consider for my husband’s end-of-life care.
I remember the hospice nurse assigned to my husband and how extremely thorough, compassionate, supportive and intuitive she was in determining what would be most helpful for him in the days ahead – services such as massage therapy for his tight and rigid muscles and music therapy, which he enjoyed so very much. Care Dimensions offered my family pre-bereavement support and planning, guidance, and valuable resources during his care, which continued even after his passing. Thanks to the hospice team, my family never felt alone and I did not have to be his nurse 24/7. I could be his wife again knowing that our team of wonderful caregivers were always just a phone call away.
As difficult as my husband’s end-of-life journey was, I will always be grateful for the personal experience I had with Care Dimensions because it made me realize my passion for hospice nursing. It also helped me understand what truly is important to patients and families at end of life, as well as their fears and emotions.
I knew that I wanted to work for Care Dimensions because I had seen – both professionally and personally – how their staff consistently provides exceptional and compassionate care to each patient and family in their care. Care Dimensions provides exceptional training, resources, and support to their employees so that they are best prepared to do their job well. Care Dimensions also realizes that working in hospice is physically and emotionally challenging, so they offer various self-care and wellness resources and incentives.
The rewards of hospice nursing
Hospice nursing is one of the most rewarding nursing careers because of its very nature. I consider it an honor to be invited into a patient’s home and explore options to improve their quality of life with support from my interdisciplinary team. Patients and families are often overwhelmed, frightened and inexperienced, but as their nurse, I teach, guide, prepare and empower family members to partner in the care of their loved one at end of life. I am also an advocate who ensures that all members of the health care team are available. It is my priority to ensure that families have all the resources and tools they need to honor their loved one’s goals and wishes for end-of-life care.
It is very rewarding as a nurse to walk with patients and families through their most difficult days and help guide them to a peaceful, comfortable passing. The trust that is established between patient and nurse allows the patient and family to be comfortable sharing their true feelings and being honest about their goals, wishes and fears so that they can be addressed. This important message provided me with peace when I was facing the difficult days of my husband’s end-of- life journey.
I have been working for Care Dimensions for approximately nine months and am thankful and proud to represent this outstanding hospice organization. I have found my niche and am so grateful every day for a new opportunity to make a meaningful difference for my patients and families at such a difficult time in their lives.
One of the most important lessons I have learned as a hospice nurse is that just as every person’s experience with life is different, so is their end-of-life journey. It is important to learn as much as possible about each patient, their family, experiences, special memories, and hobbies/interests, all of which help to understand the patient and what is important to them and their family. This intimate knowledge helps the hospice team develop the best individualized care plan that closely meets the patient’s needs and goals as they journey through end of life.
A favorite memory I have was with a hospice patient who was an accomplished jazz pianist but was no longer able to play his piano because he couldn’t climb the stairs to get to it on the second floor of his home. He would reminisce about playing at various functions and for his family, and how much he missed that because it brought him so much joy.
I asked his family if it was possible to have the piano moved downstairs so that he could play again. I’ll never forget the day I walked into his home for my weekly visit and there he was sitting at his piano just waiting for me to enter and when I did, he began to play a song that he had written just for me. While he played, I could see the joy in his eyes and the smile on his face. He had forgotten about his shortness of breath, inability to walk and the pain that was keeping him from living the life he once lived. This experience brought tears to my eyes. There is no greater gift or reward as a hospice nurse than knowing that you have succeeded at delivering the very best individualized and quality nursing care possible and bringing peace and contentment to a patient at end of life.
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About the author
Nancy Drago, RN, is an RN case manager with Care Dimensions.