Thursday, November 17, 2011

Eldercare Nurses: Seek Out the Good, Run from the Bad

As our parents age, we Boomers meet lots of nurses. Most are good--of the Florence Nightengale or Clara Barton ilk. But we also may encounter our own version of Nurse Ratchett, the infamous character in One Flew Under the Cuckoo's Nest.

I met my Nurse Ratchett in the final weeks of Daddy's life. I was visiting from out of state. Daddy's Parkinson's was taking its toll; the doctor gave us children the option of installing a feeding tube. We gave the ok for the procedure, knowing that he still could aspirate, even with the tube.

My gut told me Daddy might not live too long. I struggled with when to book flights for our kids to visit. They had to give notice at work, but time was not on our side. I needed advice--support--from someone in the medical field. So I approached Daddy's nurse at the nursing home.

"Do you have any idea how long my Dad has? My kids haven't seen him in a long time, and I'm wondering about booking flights?"

Her answer blew me away. "Your father could live two days, two weeks, two months or two years," she said. I felt as if an ice storm blew through the room.

I could have come up with that answer on my own, without an RN after my name.

I found Mother's nurse. I asked the same question, adding, "I wasn't exactly asking when Daddy would die. No one knows that. I was asking her advice on when I should book flights for the kids, given the situation."

"Did anyone mention 'comfort measures only'?" she asked. I shook my head.

"Comfort measures only refers to the treatment a person receives during the final hours or days before death."

"If you were me, you'd book the flights soon, though?"

"Absolutely."

She was my Clara Barton. Or Florence Nightengale. Take your pick. I wouldn't hold her responsible if things didn't turn out like she'd predicted. After all, she wasn't God.

Just a messenger from God. I learned to take my nursing advice with a grain of salt. To seek out the angels of the long-term battlefield, and to run from the others.

Have you encountered nurses who helped--or hindered--your decision-making in regard to your parent's care?

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