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Precarious Hope: A Hospice Nurse Balances Truth and Kindness

December 14, 2012

This couple might be your elderly neighbors: he helps his wife into the house as she moves slowly, step by unsteady step, in time with her four-point cane; at the same time, you know that he is recovering from recent chemotherapy treatments. Or they may be your aging parents: your mother’s role as primary caregiver hampered by her right leg weakness from a stroke and advancing heart disease, while your father needs more care from day to day as his renal failure approaches the decision to begin dialysis or not. They support and care for each other.

PrecariousHopeIllustrationThe December Reflections column in AJN, “Precarious Hope,” is by an RN case manager at a hospice. She describes a couple in which one partner has dementia and the other has cancer, their mutual dependency, and the challenge of knowing how best to care for them:

In hospice, I’m often confronted with the difficulty of balancing honesty with kindness. I love a quote often attributed to the Buddha: “When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.” It follows that sometimes what is true is not kind, and that truth must be cloaked in kindness—as in this instance, as I sit at the table listening to George, whose hopeful, unrealistic comments confirm that he simply can’t hear the truth.

It’s a sensitive portrait of love, the fine line between self-delusion and perseverance, and the way that sometimes simply bearing witness is the best way to help someone. The essay is short, and well worth your taking a moment to read in entirety. It’s also open access, so click on the article link above or on the illustration itself, give the essay a read, and let us know what you think. (For the best version of the article, click through to the PDF version.)—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

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One comment

  1. I am interested in speaking via email to a hospice nurse regarding their role in pallative care/hospice nursing, for a nursing school project. Thank you

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