Floral Hospice: An End of Life Transitional Object

Posted by Dr. El - June 28, 2011 - Anecdotes, End of life - No Comments

Nan was in the hallway, looking as thin and pale as I’d ever seen her.

“Are you okay?  Do you feel well enough to meet today?” I’d heard in morning report that she’d been diagnosed with pneumonia.

“No,” she croaked, and then hesitated. “I mean, yes.” She looked at me intently.  “It might be our last time.”

Alarmed, I wheeled her into her room, stopping along the way to pick up the newspaper, as she requested.

“You said ‘it might be our last time.’  Do you think you’re going to die before next week?”

“Yes.”

I could feel the tears coming.  I’d known Nan for years and was very fond of her.  “Is it okay if I cry for a moment?” I asked her, but even if it wasn’t, I couldn’t help myself, and it took a minute for me to get myself under control.  Nan busied herself with her newspaper.

“Do you feel ready?” I asked her.  We’d discussed her thoughts and expectations about dying in the past.

“Yes.”

“Is there anyone you want me to call?”

“No.”
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I came back later in the day to check on her and found her in bed.  She asked me for water. “Would you like to go on hospice?  They’d have someone here four hours a day to help you with stuff like this.”

She took a sip of the cup I held at her mouth, and shook her head no.  I felt bad leaving her alone in her room.
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On the way to work the next morning, I debated about whether or not to bring Nan some flowers.  Would it violate my personal rule not to do things for one resident I wouldn’t do for another?  I went back and forth for a while, and then decided that I’d probably do this for a resident I’d been seeing for a while who was dying and had no visitors to help them through to the end.  I bought a flowering plant in a pot, not wanting to get something that might die before she did.
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“I brought you some flowers, Nan,” I told her when I came into the room the next day.  “I’m going to put them here on the windowsill, and they’ll be like me watching over you.”

Her voice was weak.  “You’re too good to me.”

“You know I’m very fond of you.”
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I came back to water the flowers after the weekend.  “Someone else has done it already, Nan.” I remarked.  Nan looked at me and nodded.
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By Thursday, Nan had passed.

I put the flowers on the desk at the nursing station.