Dealing with Dying

June 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Many people think the job of a nurse or doctor is to make us feel better, but that isn't always possible. Millions die in hospitals every year, but many health care providers haven't had any kind of training on dealing with the end-of-life process. New ideas could make everyone feel more comfortable during a difficult time.Robert and Sarah Gorelick's love story spans four decades and dozens of countries around the world.

"We moved to Paris," Robert told Ivanhoe. "We went to Latin America for some years, and the last five years, we were living in Rome."

Their jobs as a foreign diplomat and United Nations translator put them in the presence of royalty and world leaders.

But their jet-set lifestyle came to a screeching halt when Sarah was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

"There was never five minutes where she could forget she was ill," Robert recalled. "She was always in pain."

Sarah was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital where nurses just finished an end-of-life study.

The study revealed 52 percent of nurses had never been trained to deal with end-of-life issues. However, 43 percent had cared for up to three patients who had died in the past couple of months.

"The medical model is to cure. You want to cure the patient," Alison Chappell, R.N., from Georgetown University Hospital, told Ivanhoe. "At some point, it changes over to the palliative care model, which is to allow the natural death process to happen."

Studies show simple techniques can make a big difference. Doctors and nurses should introduce themselves to everyone in the room. They shouldn't be afraid to say, "I'm sorry." They should also offer a simple hand touch when appropriate, avoid medical jargon, allow silence or tears, and avoid the urge to talk to ease discomfort.

"One of the nurses said to my daughter, 'You know, it's really an honor for us to take care of your mother,' and for my daughter, it really meant a tremendous, it really meant a lot," Robert said.

Less than two months after his beloved Sarah's death, Robert visits with her nurses.

"A great part of it is not only the pills and the medicine, but it's the human relationship," Robert said.

They couldn't save her, but their care and kindness is helping a husband through the most difficult time in his life.

Recent studies also recommend doctors and nurses call the family or caregiver after the death of the patient for both sides of the therapeutic relationship to achieve closure.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT:
Georgetown MD Physician Referral Line
(202) 342-2400
http://www.georgetownuniversityhospital.org/

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