Malina Hospice Why

Someone asked me recently why I chose hospice. I could see the sympathy in their eyes as they inquired. I have seen this look many times during my tenure as a hospice nurse.

It is the “oh poor you,” look that folks give when they think hospice is something that happened to me during my career, not something I chose. I love it when this happens because it gives me a chance to share my “hospice why.”

This story may be best told from the beginning.
My discovery of hospice was accidental. I worked an orthopedic unit and spent my days addressing post-surgical pain and putting on TED hose. It was good work. I enjoyed watching my patients improve with their knee and hip replacements, some of them having no pain in their joints for the first time in years!

I also help with other units, like a lot of nurses did when there was a need. One evening, I was floated to the hospice house unit. I am not going to project a false bravado; I was intimidated at the mere thought of covering this unit. I knew I would be the only nurse, and I also knew all the patients on that unit were very ill. I asked to go to a different unit. I had no hospice experience; surely someone else should go there. There was no one else, so I went. The departing nurse gave me the scoop. Be present, keep the patient free from pain and comfortable.
Check! It sounded a lot like what I was already doing. I would be fine. As the evening pressed into night, the patient that I was caring for took a turn.

He was different than he had been just an hour before. He looked to me with a question in his eye, but he had no words. I started to panic. I gave him some pain medication, and he relaxed but only a little. I began to panic further. That usually worked. I know I looked like a cartoon character circling the room as if the solution would see my confusion and jump out in front of me. I felt the urge that all nurses feel when they see their patient has a need.

I wanted to help.

I wanted to fix it.

I wanted to make it all better.

What should I do?

How could I help him?

I sat next to him, placed his hand in mine, and spoke out loud to the man I knew could not talk back to me. I told him we would figure this out together. I told him that we had each other and that would have to get us through, but not to worry, we would get it. I was more talking for my benefit than his, but his body relaxed, and his face became calmer. His breathing became less labored and I realized that I had accidentally figured out what my patient needed.

He needed me.

I sat with his hand in mine for the next 4 hours. I sang to him. I talked to him about the size of his hands and wondered out loud what kind of life he had led and what kind of work he had done. I talked to him about how I was certain that a gentleman with such hands must be a kind, strong, hard-working man. I talked to him about the fact I regretted that his family was not able to be with him on this night but not to fear, I would not leave him, and he was not alone on his journey. I thanked him for introducing himself to me without him ever saying a word to me.

Suddenly, he opened his eyes and made eye contact with me. I was startled at first and panic rushed through me once more, but this time his gaze calmed me. I thanked him. The corners of his mouth turned up and he stopped breathing. You would think that I would panic in that moment that my patient died, but I did not. At that moment, I realized that this lovely gentleman that never said one word to me had started me on my path in my work and in my life. He had given me the gift of hospice. The next day, I applied for an open hospice position and I have never regretted one single moment since. I have laughed. I have loved.

I have cried.

I have hurt.

I feel everything and I give my everything.

I asked my daughter how she felt about my new job some months into my new nursing career and she responded that I cried more but that I laughed more and smiled more too. The gifts I received from that wonderful man that day are larger than their sum. I have learned how to be a better person for myself, my family and my friends. Hospice was my gift.

Everyday, I work to share that amazing gift with the world.

Pictured is Malina with her beautiful family.