The death rate for humans on the planet Earth is currently 100 percent. I know this is not a pleasant thing to read while enjoying your first cup of coffee this morning, or perhaps you’re enjoying a calming glass of wine later this evening. It’s unpleasant enough that perhaps you will not finish reading this post, but it’s true nonetheless.
Running parallel to our fear of dying is our pursuit of eternal youth. Cosmetic surgery and procedures are a billion dollar industry. Many men and women consider regular treatments for balding, teeth whitening, the prevention and removal of wrinkles, and coloring gray hair part of normal maintenance. Some choose to have the evidence of time wiped from their faces by a surgeon’s scalpel.
The struggle nurses face in striking the right balance between hope and realistic outcomes for our patients is in part due to society’s mythical belief that death is preventable, when in fact, it’s inevitable. As humans, nurses buy into the myth to some extent also.
Discussing this, a nurse friend and I joked about gray hairs and wrinkles. She remarked, “Getting old is terrible.”
“No,” I said, “It’s not. It’s what nurses do for a living. We help people stay alive so they can grow old.”
See? It’s a matter of perspective.
Whenever someone asks, “Is it hard being a cancer nurse working with dying patients?” the above thoughts come to mind. The answer is, “I don’t see oncology nursing from that perspective.”
Yes, oncology nurses work with the dying, but I perceive our practice as helping people live to their fullest capacity.
Nurses cannot guarantee patients a cure or how long they’ll live, but by promoting prevention, treatment, and providing tools for managing chronic disease, we encourage them to pursue their best life possible as things stand. If nurses lose this perspective, how can we hope to share it with our patients?
There is balance in the realization that death is part of life. Death and loss cause grief, a normal response. Grief and loss are painful. We fear death and loss, but they are a natural occurrence of living. Maintaining a realistic perspective is a tool for burn out prevention among nurses.
All people die. Nurses are here to help patients live until that day.
I grieve their loss, and mine, because I glimpse my mortality too in the faces of the dying.
Thank you for reading this entire post.