Death and Dying
Palliative Care Overview
|Death and Dying in America
When we are laid out in our coffins, our friends will file by and compliment us on our still blonde (red, brown, or black) hair, our unlined faces, our bodies that are plumped up where fashion dictates they should be plump, and suctioned thin exactly where we are told we must be thin. Yet, we will still be dead. Surprise!
Our society’s obsession with looking young is also a looking away from old age and from death. It is as if by maintaining a perpetual youthful physical appearance, death will not come. But come it will, and it should not come as a surprise to any of us, especially those of us in the health care profession. Death is the final destination in every human being’s journey, the ultimate mystery of our existence. It is a time of great stress and great challenge for the person who is dying, their caregivers, and their healthcare providers. And nurses, more than any other healthcare provider, are in a unique position to guide people through this transitional time. However, most nurses experience the death of a patient with little or no understanding of what to expect, much less what can be done to alleviate the pain or other distressing symptoms that may occur. Too few nursing schools teach end of life care, and most textbooks make only cursory mention of the subject. Without the proper training, nurses are failing to care adequately for dying patients’ needs in what is perhaps the most critical time in their lives. And it is not just the nursing profession that lacks this training physicians, social workers, nurse aides almost the whole of the healthcare profession have little understanding or training in end-of-life care. Healthcare institutions, as well, are often not prepared for the needs of the patient at the end-of-life, with no room for family members to stay comfortably with their loved ones, lack of privacy, and quiet areas. Indeed, long-term care facilities often send their elderly dying patients to the emergency room of a hospital when they are near the end of their lives. The staff’s lack of knowledge and state regulations can make it difficult to manage the care of a dying patient in that type of facility.
Finally, understanding their choices and accessing appropriate care at the end of life can be frustrating for patients and their families. Too often physicians and nurses do not know enough about the options for end-of life care to advocate for their patients and patients are left unsure where to turn.
This program will help to acquaint you with a beginning understanding of care at the end of life, so that hopefully, you will be more knowledgeable about the needs of patients at this critical time in their lives.