We thought she still had weeks left to live. We didn’t know it would only be hours. She died suddenly and the family asked the nurses to perform CPR – cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The nurses calmly and gently refused. They knew it wouldn’t work, she had been too unwell. It would only cause her further harm with no possibility of benefit. Her distraught family’s tears flowed freely.
When we were informed of the sudden death we were surprised but not shocked. We knew she was dying but had not thought it would be so fast. There was nothing more we could do for our patient. She had died. The care package needed to be directed towards the survivors, her family members. We came in to talk to them, to try to explain what we thought had happened. We wanted to try to calm their distress, to try to prevent complicated grief.
We expressed how sorry we were for their loss. We told them we didn’t know exactly what had happened. We thought it was due to overwhelming disease. Nature could not be controlled by us mere humans. It was too much for even the strongest of women to handle, even with the greatest level of loving family support. She had tried her best to hold on to life, but it was not to be. The family accepted our explanations and uncertainty. They did not want her to have any further investigations. There had been too many over the last months.
They said she had loved it in our inpatient unit. She had felt well looked after. She knew we were all trying our best to help her out, and the family too. They laughed when they recounted a story about their loved one’s ultra direct communication style. They hugged us as they thanked us for the care provided. We wished we could’ve done more.
They asked if they could all stay with her overnight. They needed to look after her as per their cultural traditions. They needed to look after each other as a family. It had likely been a long time since the siblings had all stayed the night together with their mother. It was their last chance to all be together as a complete family, as tomorrow she would rest in her final bed. We made a compassionate exception as the family needed to do their duty. They also needed to start their healing process. Bedding and more space were prepared by our staff, as if by magic.
It can never be perfect in palliative care, if it was perfect she wouldn’t have been sick, she wouldn’t have died. Had we done enough? We were trying to do our best to make her comfortable before she died, and we were never going to stop trying. We had listened to her and her family regarding what she wanted and didn’t want. She had died suddenly but peacefully. The family were sad, but they were not destroyed. Life would go on. We had done what we could. We had done good enough.