Taking care of patients at end-of-life can be one of the most challenging, heartbreaking and rewarding aspects of your career. Knowing how to handle these situations and care for these patients (and their families) will help alleviate your anxiety so you can be completely present for those in their time of need.
I had been a nurse in the ICU for about two years when I received report on a patient with end-stage metastatic lung cancer. She was approximately 25 years old, married, and the mother of three young children. The patient, referred to by the alias Marda*, had come into the emergency room the day prior complaining of shortness of breath. At the time of this writing, I do not recall if the cancer diagnosis was new, but my impression of the day’s events is that this woman and her family were blindsided by the news that there was nothing more that could be done. The damage to her lungs was extensive, and the cancer had spread to her liver, brain, and lymph nodes.