News & Events

Tending to the Dying: Consideration for Care

By Barbara Stringer, RN Death is an inevitability of life—the loss of a mother, father, sister, brother, tragically a child, or a friend. As nursing professionals, we have a unique perspective on death. Our impact on the patient and their family members faced with a loss can have a positive effect. The difference can be between making end-of-life issues more comforting and supportive rather than fearful and desolate. A systematic approach to the comprehensive care of the dying, including their spiritual needs, was one of the many issues brought up at the program Tending to the Dying, held on February 4, 2009. This approach stressed the need to listen to the symptom complaint of the patient, oftentimes taking the simplest of actions like proper mouth care, keeping the patients clean, and administration of pain medication. The nurse is also integral in assisting the patient and family with their spiritual needs, for example contacting their clergy when requested. Helping to support difficult decisions by talking to family members in times of stress and grief is a task nurses need to perform. It is essential to remember that choices like taking a loved one off a respirator, ending IV fluids and stopping treatments like dialysis can be overwhelming for the family. These experiences challenge us to look at our observations, experiences and emotional responses to our dying patients. As nursing professionals we want to make the last phase of life for our patients as comforting, supportive and caring as possible. The need to help patients and family members prepare for death is important. Nurses have a unique and vital role in helping with end-of-life issues. This program assisted us in evaluating our practice concerning the dying and gave us tools to do so. That is what our continuing education program held at the Hotel Northampton on February 4, 2009, was about. As always, the colonial charm of the historic hotel with its gracious elegance was relaxing. On that cold February night, the fireplace, located in the hotel lobby, with its blazing fire was a welcoming sight, making everyone feel at home and relaxed. It was a nice respite after a hard day’s work. A light supper was provided and fully enjoyed. Our presenters, Suzanna Makowski, MD, MMM and Ann Connolly RN, ACNP-BC, ACHPN were well versed on this topic. Dr. Makowski is Board Certified in Hospice & Palliative Care, and Internal Medicine, as well as having completed various fellowships throughout the country. She focuses on the interdisciplinary nature for palliative care with her colleagues from the specialized disciplines of nursing, social work and chaplaincy. Ann Connolly NP, has an impressive education background in critical care, pulmonary medicine, adult psychiatry, and emergency and public health nursing. She is a clinician and nurse researcher who has authored and co-authored articles on intensive care subjects. Both Dr. Makowski and Ms. Connolly work at UMASS Memorial Medical Center; Dr. Makowski is an Assistant Professor of Palliative Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine and Ms. Connolly is a Nurse Practitioner in the Division of Palliative Medicine.