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End of Shift: Patients’ names — Mom and Dad

Nurses are not strangers to getting phone calls from friends and acquaintances seeking medical advice, referrals and drive-by assessments. And for many of us, being a nurse includes managing family medical responsibilities. We are relied upon for input on when to see a physician or visit an emergency room or maybe to decipher test results or review a new prescription. Over the past five years, I wore the family nurse hat as my parents’ health declined and they passed away. I am the fifth of six children, but the only one with a career in the healthcare field. My parents each had living wills and I was given medical power of attorney. In theory, it was a smart, proactive, straightforward plan. In reality, it had some issues.

Patty Healey Yaniz, RN

Patty Healey Yaniz, RN

My father fell ill first. A retired physician, my father definitely knew the importance of his living will and the path he was on.

In 2011, a urinary tract infection quickly became sepsis and within a few hours my mother was faced with the decision to either follow her heart or a document. My father was placed on a ventilator, dopamine and a feeding tube, and he needed dialysis. This is basically everything he didn’t want at the end of his life. It broke my heart to see him suffering, yet it also crushed me to see my mother’s grief and denial of the situation. It fell to me to balance my father’s wishes with my mother’s need for time and hope and to accept what was happening.

Forty-eight hours later, after a meeting and prayers with her priest and friends, I braved the difficult conversation with my mother with information from the physicians and living will in hand. Finally, my mother and I understood the task ahead of us. The three of us were together in that ICU room when my dad took his last breath, as my mother professed her love for him.

Afterward, I struggled with my role as daughter-nurse. My mother would call me for recaps, reviews and reassurance that we made the right decision. She depended on my knowledge, my strength and my love.

Because of my dad’s passing she became more concerned about illness and death. During our visits, she would point out important documents and instructions. When a friend was diagnosed with cancer, she reminded me that she did not want to be subjected to chemotherapy at her age. She actually planned the music and liturgy for her funeral to be sure it was what she wanted. So, four years later, when a fall with a broken leg became a bone cancer diagnosis, my mother called me from a hospital room and asked me to take her home — and home we went. My mother died within a week.

At times I felt like I couldn’t be the sad, grieving daughter because I was measuring morphine, bathing or turning her or making phone calls. What was my role? Nurse, daughter or both? Sometimes I am still overcome with the grief and the responsibility that I shouldered. They trusted me to help them with possibly their most important journey.

Looking back, I felt it was my duty as a nurse to give my parents the best care and make the best decisions for their treatment. In assuming that role, my feelings and grief as a daughter were delayed. Of course there were moments that I held their hands and expressed my love and gratitude, but I was more focused on their care and tasks in front of me.

Months went by before I finally was able to reflect upon it all. I cried daily and found solace in talking with friends and co-workers who had similar experiences.
Time has passed. Some days I am still sad and think about my choices and the care I provided during that time. On other days I am in awe of the gift I was given.

I was with both my parents when they took their last breaths and their souls left their physical bodies. •

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By | 2020-04-03T08:30:28-04:00 August 31st, 2016|Categories: Featured Posts, Your Stories|8 Comments
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Patty Healey Yaniz, BSN, RN, CEFM, is a labor and delivery nurse at Northwestern Lake Forest (Ill.) Hospital.

8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Twila Paradis.RN September 7, 2016 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    I went through the same thing when my husband suffered a massive stroke. When the hospital said he would never recover, I worked with him until he regained movement in both arms and legs. He went to a Nursing home after discharge and I would go to visit and spend time with him. After walking in one day to find him totally nude and the door to his room wide open, I decided to take him home. I never regretted my decision. He eventually was able to walk with assistance and could manipulate his wheelchair within the house.He decided he wanted to have tube feedings versus aspirating on food. When he was at home, I had total care of him and After he fell, he aspirated his tube feeding and developed pneumonia. He lingered on for almost a year but went with me everywhere and he enjoyed going to the grocery before he fell. They said he as improving and moved him from ICU. After 3 days, he was so congested and produced so much fluid, he was moved back to the ICU where he was hooked up to so many things. I had to make the decision to notify my sons so they would be there and had the nurses remove one Iv medication. My sons were present and God took him home. He had a pacemaker and when they stopped it, I knew he was gone but it still hurt.He’s been gone for 4 years but I still wonder if I had only done something different, would he still be here. We’d been married for 45 years, and I miss him still. I still cry when I think how much he trusted me and relied on me for his care.

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    Judy September 8, 2016 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Great read, what can one say other than find peace you did your nurse duty but you also did your daughter duty with great love

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    Wendy Marsh September 14, 2016 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s the sad truth that our generation faces this challenge more and more and the stories we share are a great comfort to know we’re not alone in the are of our aging parents and loved ones. Being a nurse is one of the most honorable and selfless callings in life and not many care called to this line of duty. Know that you are a blessing to all the lives you touch and know that you have made a positive difference with every smile and touch. God Bless!

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    MaryEllen Mehler, RN September 20, 2016 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for publishing this eloquently written article!

    When my Dad became ill several years ago, my family looked to me for advice and ultimately for his care. As the family RN, it seemed to be the natural course of how things should go. And because I loved my father so, I willingly took his care on. But juggling the hats of nurse and daughter can sometimes be very difficult and conflicting. Your heart and mind are sometimes at war with each other. Ms Yaniz has captured in words what I have been trying to convey to my family about my experience. Since my dad’s passing, I have come to terms with the experience but only after much soul searching and reflection.

    As Ms Yaniz puts it, “Some days I am still sad and think about my choices and the care I provided during that time. On other days I am in awe of the gift I was given.” Well said!

    Thanks again for publishing this article. It is yet one more piece of my grief puzzle solved and explained so well.

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    Eve Regan October 20, 2016 at 3:01 am - Reply

    After reading your article I cried and cried. I am a critical care nurse who like you, am the sibling with the Medical knowledge and the only one who lived within the area of our parents. My father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and over the course of almost 3 years, nursed him, became his advocate, relayed the information to our family as well as interpreted and made the round trips to MSKCC for treatments, all the while keeping my own fear and feelings in check so as to not alarm my Mom. After my Dad passed away May 25th of 2015, and having to arrange all of his funeral arrangements – my Mom suddenly became sick herself on Jan 1st of 2016 and was admitted to my very own ICU right across from my office. I truly had difficult being a daughter and not a Nurse within my own unit and with my own Mom with my own Nurses taking care of her. She passed away on March 9th.

    I think your statement of … “looking back you felt it was your duty as a nurse to give your parents the best care and make the best decisions for their treatments, and this delayed your grief” – I could not agree more….. The only solace I find is that I look at my ultimate choice of becoming a Nurse was so that I “could” be there for each of them when they needed me most (not that I knew that at that time). Who better to care for them than me, I owed them that for all the care they gave me my entire life. I’m still not sure I have dealt with either of their death’s. I was barely starting to deal with my Father’s when my Mother became ill and then she died too. I look at the room where she died every single day from my office and all the patients that have come and gone but still i see my Mom there, I know one day I won’t though.

    Thank you so much for putting into words what I felt, at least I was able to hand this article to my husband and say “here, read this, this is exactly how I feel” ~ My deepest sympathies on your losses as well !

    ~ Eve, MSN, RN- BC ~
    BR3 MICU/CCU JSUMC

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    Saralee M Czajkowski November 15, 2016 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    This article really spoke to my heart. To this day, I still 2nd guess myself on the course that both my parents took with their initial illness. Being their daughter and acting as their nurse advocate was empowering,but left me with many questions afterwards. What I am left with is my faith in a sovereign God, who knows the days allotted for each one of us, and as the end of the article said, the same with me, I am blessed to have been at the bedside of both my parents and in laws until their final breaths, singing them into heaven.

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    Michele December 5, 2016 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    I read your article today and it tugged at my heart and expressed many of things that I felt during the last 8 months. My Mom, the one who was active, engaged in life and the heart of our family, had a stroke in March of this year. Her stroke did not present in the typical manner and it took multiple trips to various doctors and to the ED for her to get the appropriate diagnosis. As the nurse in the family, I pushed to get physicians and others to listen when I knew as a nurse for 39 years what had happened. It took a week to have her admitted to the hospital. She then went through several weeks of therapy and was transferred to long term care. During her stay in long term care the development of a DVT led her back to the hospital. I had to push the long term care facility to send her to the hospital. I felt the roles of nurse, daughter but most of all advocate weighing heavy on my shoulders. Following her return to the facility she deteriorated within a matter of a week. The week prior to her death she cried and asked for my help and told me she wanted to die. On her final day, I went to her room to find her having difficulty breathing and semi-comatose. Again, I had to beg for the nurse who was caring for her to send her to the hospital. The nurse replied that she was unable to send her because she needed approval from the nursing supervisor. My heart was breaking as I had to demand for her to be sent. Phone in hand, I was calling 911 when the ambulance came. In the ED the family looked to me to say that enough was enough and with sadness in my heart, as the nurse, I saw the signs of impending death and told the nurses and physicians to stop. She passed away in a room on my clinical unit in the hospital. During the next 6 months, my Dad became restless and he was moved from long term care to assisted living, to another long term care facility and finally to an Alzheimer facility. He became hostile and angry at times and a man who had never spoken ill to me before expressed every angry feeling at me. There was no time to grieve the loss of Mom, I needed to be there for Dad. Days prior to his death, he developed a GI bleed that left him with a hemoglobin of 4.5. He told the ED physician repeatedly that he was ready to die and that his daughter the nurse just didn’t get it. I calmly walked into the room and assured him that I did get it and would respect his wishes. At that time, everything changed. The anger was gone. As we sat in the ED he calmly and clearly told me the story of his life. I heard for the first time, stories I had never heard before. I will be forever grateful for that time. He died just a few days later. I was not at his bedside when he died because I was in the hospital ED with my husband. The days after his death I felt immobile. All of the grief and stress from the past 8 months crashed down on me for those few days. A long time friend told me at the funeral that I should never question the decisions that I made or the care that I gave them. Both of them would be proud. This has helped me the most in the week since my Dads death.

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    Elizabeth A. Havey February 3, 2017 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    I saw letters about this piece in the latest paper edition of nurse.com and had to find it online and read it. Thanks for this honest and beautiful work. Out of her three children, two boys and a girl, I, an RN, was chosen by my mother to have her power of attorney for healthcare–she trusted me completely. I do feel I made the right decisions, but as her dementia increased and then a broken hip which was surgically repaired confined her forever to the memory unit of her senior home and a wheel chair, I was torn. A woman who read vociferously, played bridge, had many friends and raised three children on her own, now talked about going on a trip– which in the end became a metaphor for her death. Hospice care was the best decision I made, as it eased Mom closer to the end of her journey. When she was finally able to say “I have to go, but I scared,” I knew I had made the right choices. Mom died with me and my brother at her side–that’s a blessing I will never forget.

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