– Ms Meheli Chakraborty, Kolkata
This morning at the hospice was not like the other day. A now unconscious Rani (name changed) had celebrated her 25th Birthday just 24 hours ago. It was Rani’s last wish to have a big birthday bash with her family for one last time. Rani and her family celebrated her birthday with love and bitter-sweet smiles as they created memories that were sure to last them a lifetime.
The very next morning, Rani began showing symptoms of dying. Her husband of seven years held her hand all through. You see, Rani had married her husband after much resistance from her husband’s family. All through their stay at the hospice, the staff witnessed their undying love and affection for each other. Rani’s father, mother and sister were also stationed at her bedside and kept gently caressing Rani even though was slowly slipping away from them.
All of them held their positions from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day, despite being exhausted and not having eaten the entire day. They wanted to stay with Rani for as long as possible. At the hospice, we always encourage family members to stay with their loved one’s for as long as they want to during the end. Rani and her family were however very happy the previous night as they were able to finally sleep after a long time. It was heartbreaking to see how much of a difference was seen in just 24 hours.
At around 3:30 p.m. Rani’s husband left her side to visit our hospice pond and rest for just a bit, while the others continued to stay at her bed side. They continued to hold Rani’s hands, and kept gently kissing her for what they knew might be the last time, all while they had already begun to mourn. After about 30 minutes, her husband returned and instructed everyone to leave the room. After some hesitation Rani’s parents and sister including her husband went outside.
5 minutes later, I went to check on Rani. Rani had breathed her last breath and had left to heaven.
We then began working on the various formalities to declare Rani’s death and towards the various death protocols, conduct family counselling etc. During these interactions, we began talking about how wonderful her birthday celebration was and how it had positively impacted all of us at the hospice. It was then that her husband shared something which gave us all goosebumps.
He mentioned that while resting beside the pond that afternoon, he was very tired and was in a state of dreamy somnolence. In his dream he heard Rani murmuring “You go and tell my mum, dad, and my sister to leave the room as I cannot leave otherwise”. He said this was the reason why he came to the room hurriedly and asked everyone to leave.
Hearing this, Rani’s family was relieved knowing that they fulfilled their daughter’s last wish.
Many people ask the nurses at our hospice including me, on how we deal with the deaths of our patients. They also ask us if we get burnt out. From the core of my heart, I strongly feel that if all the health professionals, and we the nurses especially, feel a sense of burnout then who will deal all these? Can any of us avoid death by any means i.e. – money, influence, etc. If your answer is no, then how can we burn out? Our mission is to provide quality of life and eventually a dignified end for those who are suffering and in pain. Only if we are passionate about working with such patients and their caregivers will we be able to pass on the message about the need, benefits and importance of palliative care to the community. Only then will we be able to hope for and anticipate for a day when we are our own death bed, will we be surrounded by our loved ones to say ‘GOOD-BYE’. Having said that, all healthcare professionals must ensure that they practice selfcare as it is something that we are bound to experience if not mindful.
I have heard so many testimonies from so many families who have experienced similar incidents such as what Rani’s family experienced. However, this was the first time it affected me so intensely. Post Rani’s episode, I have started to actively interview several people to ask them for what they would want at their death bed. I have also wondered ‘What do I want? Do I really want my family to go out?’. The answer was clear, ‘No way’. Interestingly, I have received a wide array of answers from different people with different spiritual beliefs.
The very best thing for me and my other nurse colleagues is that most of our patient’s families continue to stay in touch with us even after their loved one has passed away. We feel privileged, really love and cherish these relationships forever. Rani’s family has also become one of them now.
About the Author:
Ms Meheli Chakraborty is the CEO at the Ruma Abedona Hospice Palliative Care Centre. She is passionate and aspires to improve the quality of dying, grief and bereavement services for patients (and their caregivers) who are suffering from life threatening illnesses.