This past year I had the challenge and privilege of working closely with the palliative care team at work.
This fall I have faced two deaths in my own family within three weeks.
(Hang tight guys, this blog is about to get reeeeeeal.)
Something that really struck me during this time of grief for my family, was how my role within my family has changed in the past few years. Not only have I had to re-connect with some of my more distant relatives as an adult, as opposed to the child that they remember; now I am also a medical professional.
"I get it, and my daughter - she's a nurse, she understands too," my mother whispered to a tired-eyed RN last weekend. "It's just.. well, be prepared for my aunt to have some... questions. I've been trying to explain things. But can be... difficult." "Difficult" is the word she settles on, with good reason.
Never have I been introduced as a nurse (outside of work) so often. Never have I tried try to see my family through the eyes of a hospital staff. I've settled on these generalizations:
Older Pompeos believe:
Illnesses are mysteries never to be solved, death is not to be discussed, and Doctors are Gods.
Older Paoluccios believe:
Illnesses are weakness never to be revealed, death is not to be discussed, and Doctors are Making Mistakes.
And here I am.
The family's favorite little actress/comedian/writer/photographer and now, three years a BSN, RN.
Fielding questions about medications. De-coding doctor's orders. Interpreting instructions. Wishing I could convince my family that Hospice doesn't mean killing someone. Wishing I could encourage my aunts to ask the doctors questions. Wishing I could discouraging them from picking fights with the visiting nurses.
Silently holding hands at bedsides, leaving to buy everyone a cup of coffee, trying to just be family. Trying to appear intelligent. Trying not to meddle. Trying not to make jokes, for the love of God, Misch don't get nervous and start to make jokes. Save it for the show.
My mother, my ally, who was in the health care field for years, does her best to smooth things over. She is the link between them and me. They've had a longer time to get used to her being a grown up, after all. She has two children of her own, after all. You'd think-
"You're picking on me," she complains to her Uncle Frank when he calls her bedside advice "redundant."
"You're an easy target," he rasps with a smile. She sighs and shrugs at me, then smiles. She's given up for the moment. She'll be the niece for now. It's easier than being the nurse.
Later, when the hospice nurse explains some of the signs of end of life to us, I just nod. I don't explain that I know already. I don't explain that sometimes it's been me running down the list of things to expect, trying to prepare the respite aides and nursing students serving at the bedside of their first palliative care patient.
I just nod. I nod to let her know I am on her side. That we will try to make this death as dignified and peaceful as we can. Because sometimes you're a nurse. And sometimes you're family. And from now on, I am always both.