Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stabbity-Stab The Hospice Nurse

0050 hrs.-- The home is a split-level. I haven't been in one of these in many years. I thought homes like this were so cool when I was a kid. Little kids seem to love steps and stairways. Now, as a middle-aged woman, I have an aversion to them. The idea of lugging the vacuum cleaner, baskets of laundry and grocercies up and down... it's tiresome to me and too filled with "broken hip potential". 

Taking several steps down, I find myself in a small family room with a kitchen off to the side. The body of the deceased, Mrs. L., is in a hospital bed in what used to be the dining area. The dinette set is probably gathering dust in the garage. Families don't just devote massive amounts of time and physical labor to the dying. They also sacrifice square footage.

I make an official pronouncement of death and sit beside Mrs. L's three adult daughters. The patient's son, John, remains standing in the unlit kitchen. The daughters and I engage in the usual small talk as we wait for the funeral home to arrive. 

"Do people sometimes take it out on you when someone dies?", asks John.

"Well, yes," I reply. "But it doesn't happen very much. Most families are very nice."

Zip... click! John has pulled out a switchblade. I see the glint of a four inch blade reflecting from within the shadows of the kitchen.

"Would anyone here like to take a few stabs at her?", asks John, looking at his sisters. 

I quickly glance at the sisters. They sit motionless; their faces without expression. I determine that they're not interested in taking John up on his offer to stab the hospice nurse. Somewhat assured, I turn sharply to my left and stare at John with the coldest, dead eyes that I can muster. It's time to size up the situation.

John is thin and no taller than I am. He's going to have to either make a heroic leap over his mother's death bed or an awkward run around it in order to get to me. I have no weapons, but I'm more than willing to sacrifice my company's, crappy laptop to use defensively or to bash his brains out. John isn't moving. He still stands, in the dark, holding the knife. He has an idiotic smirk on his face. I look back at his sisters:

"That's just his sense of humor", says one of them.

 "If John gets any funnier, I'm calling 911", I return, flatly and coldly.

The knife quickly returns to John's pocket and we all wait in silence for the funeral home. There's nothing left for me to say to this family. Right now, I'm fresh out of conversation... and compassion.  I'm also busy thinking about my life insurance and disability benefits. Because one of these nights, one of these "comedians" just might get me.


Christian Sinclair said...

That is an awful awful joke. I can't stop shaking my head. Thanks again for what you do.

Smalltown RN said...

I remember when I did homecare....some of the patients and families were very scary....and only me for my protection...this is before we thought about using cell phones....there are no safety nets for nurses who do home visits....

IT can be a very rewarding job....but the risks are there as well.

IN situations of death and dying families more so than the patient are often on edge and often don't respond appropriately ....I have seen that when I was a Palliative nurse, a critical care nurse and as a Hospice volunteer....

I am so glad things turned out ok for you...

dethmama said...

@ smalltown rn... the dangers faced by nurses, CNAs, social workers,etc. making home visits is sorely overlooked. The lack of acknowledgment of this, frankly, makes me angry sometimes.

I was faced with many potentially dangerous situations during my many years in ICU... but at least there I knew my co-workers & hospital security would respond quickly.

It's different when you walk into a stranger's home and shut the door behind you.

Chaplain Finley said...

Thanks Dethmama. Keep them coming.

Unknown said...

That is a horrible story and such an inappropriate response from the family, including the sisters. No amount of grief or bereavement excuses such behavior, and you would be right to charge John with attempted assault or even murder. I have heard horror stories similar to yours from hospice nurses involving guns and the like. Thankfully all of them escaped these situations unharmed. There cannot be enough credit given to nurses and others who put their lives on the line to care for patients at home. We can surely do better in providing them the protections they need to do their job safely.