3Cs: Coffee, Children, and Cancer

A new grad turned pediatric oncology nurses' jump into the fray…

Difficult Situations, Difficult Conversations

on August 9, 2012

Image Credit: makingovermomma.com

April May was a preschool-aged little girl with a solid tumor whom I cared for over a weekend of night shifts. Most people think that night shift is painfully slow and that the patients (and sometimes the staff) sleep all night—well not in my world. It’s actually one of the things I like about working nights though. Without all the extra hubbub of day shift, you actually get to spend more time with your patients, listening to their stories, holding their hands, really being able to be present, and in this case—helping them to say goodbye.

I spent a lot of time in April’s room. At times I felt as if I was somewhat neglecting my other patients, but it was night shift, and (thankfully) they were actually sleeping peacefully. But just like the triage of patients in the battlefield (I guess we call it “prioritization” in nursing”)—April needed me more right now. We worked hard throughout the night getting her pain under control, frequently adjusting her PCA. It was hard to watch; and it seemed so unfair for someone so small, so new to the world, to have to go through this. I felt frustrated and somewhat helpless, torn between mad and sad, as I struggled to keep it together and be there for April and her family.

I admit one of the things I have major anxiety about as a new nurse (other than fancy chemo protocols and antibody therapies) is end of life. What to do, or not do…what to say, or not say. How do you respond to some of the questions parents/families ask—”How many children have you watched die?,” or from your patients—”what will it feel like/will it hurt?” Does the family want you in the room or do they want their space? You don’t want to be intrusive yet you don’t want them to feel abandoned either. It’s a delicate dance that’s bound to be different with every encounter. Medscape offers some good tips from Cyndi Cramer, BA, RN, OCN, PCRN, in an interview, How to Have Difficult Conversations With Patients, Families.

Monday morning at change of shift, mom sleepily thanked me for everything and asked me when I would be back. I responded that I would be back on Wednesday night. April gained her angel wings Tuesday night.

Yes, cancer sucks. Really bad.

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