Dealing with terminally ill patients is a delicate situation that comes with many challenges. All patients (and sometimes, their families) have their own individual ways of coping, and no two patients necessarily have the same preferences for end-of-life care. There is no clear-cut formula on how to handle every patient in this position, but guidelines do exist. The compassionate tips in this guide will help you ease suffering and cope with end-of-life care to the best of your ability.
Be Sensitive to Their Emotions
It’s unfair to tell anyone how they should feel about anything. This is particularly the case at the end of a patient’s life. Hospice is often their final opportunity to explore emotions that have been building up over their entire life. All of their feelings are valid, regardless of whether they’re negative, positive, or laissez-faire.
To the highest possible degree, allow the patient to experience their emotions, but learn how to bring them back down if their emotions become too much. Crisis intervention in hospice is very different from everyday crisis intervention; don’t be afraid to seek training or guidance if you need it. Your goal is a delicate balance between easing their suffering and treating them like another patient.
Anxiety is a common emotion in hospice, especially early in the process. If the patient doesn’t have friends or family around for emotional support, expect anxieties to be higher. Everyone has different emotional needs; it’s up to you to find a balance between being there for them and treating their condition.
Your patient may show anger, sadness, or both at some point in the process. Intensity will vary, depending on the person and their situation, and can even change based on the time of day or date. Don’t take it to heart if they strike out at you or fall into despair at a moment’s notice.
Your patient’s guilt, remorse, and grief are guaranteed to show up eventually. Take some time to stay with them and listen when they need it. You don’t have to give any feedback or advice; most of the time they just want someone to lend them an ear.
Create a Calming Atmosphere
Death is never a straightforward process. In many cases, patients have plenty of idle time. Though it may seem strange to need to fix boredom while death is near, this is something you should try to do whenever possible. Find little ways to lighten the mood and take the edge off the situation when it’s appropriate.
It’s hard to find the best time to tell a joke, but humor is a powerful tool when used in the right situation. Small acts of kindness are always welcome—and especially so in these situations. It will show the patient they’re more than just another room number to you, not to mention giving you a positive connection to them that helps you cope, too.
Take Care of Yourself
One of the most important parts of treating terminal illness is to take care of yourself. As a medical professional, you have an increased risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression, especially in the realm of hospice care. It’s easy to lose yourself in the emotions and stress of your patient’s situation and forget to eat, sleep, or deal with your feelings.
Make sure you spend some time away from the patient and don’t feel like you have to deal with it alone. Most importantly, if you’re struggling to cope, ask for help. Never try to muster through on your own.
Witnessing death can be difficult, especially when you’re the caregiver. Your emotional health is one of the most important things to manage whether you’re working in a hospice or attending nursing home patients. Though it’s little consolation at the time, know that the role you serve is one of the most important roles in society today. ABC Training Center offers medical training programs in NYC that teach these critical methods and many more to help you meet patient needs when it matters most.