There from the Start: A Hospice Nurse Looks Back

A painting of Dianne Puzycki, RN, hangs in Connecticut Hospice in New Haven.

At age 82, Dianne Puzycki has yet to retire from nursing—she still works the night shift once a week at Connecticut Hospice in Branford, where she’s been employed since the organization’s inception in the 1970s. Founded by Florence Wald, it was the first hospice in the United States.

Puzycki started her career in 1955 at Memorial Hospital in New York City, caring for patients with cancer at a time when death and dying wasn’t openly discussed. “We weren’t allowed to talk about that. It really haunted me for years,” she told AJN in a July profile. Several years later, she encountered two influential women: Dame Cicely Saunders, who founded the first modern hospice, and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who introduced the concept of the five stages of grief in her groundbreaking 1969 book On Death and Dying. Seeing them speak piqued her interest in the hospice movement, and she began volunteering for Connecticut Hospice, which eventually led to a full-time job.

Throughout the decades, says Puzycki, she’s witnessed hospice care constantly change and improve. She recalls that in the past, more patients used to stay up at night, afraid, spending time in a family room near the nurses’ station—but now, “most […]

2017-07-26T09:35:44+00:00 July 26th, 2017|Nursing, nursing career|1 Comment

PTSD and Falls: For the Elderly, a Lost Sense of Safety and Control

Jack lowers his head and presses his temples with his thumbs. He whispers, “Am I going crazy?”

In the weeks after his fall and trip to the emergency department, something has gone painfully awry. He’s been having episodes of anxiety when transferring from bed to chair as well as difficulty sleeping. His once unflappable optimism has been blunted by intrusive memories and ruminations about the fall and a sense of foreboding about the future.

Psychological Aftereffects of a Fall

Though he sustained no serious injury and had been quickly returned to the assisted living facility where he lives, the fall has left him with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most health care professionals are unaware that falls in the elderly can cause posttraumatic stress symptomatology, acute stress disorder, even PTSD. Indeed, in some settings falls occur frequently enough to insulate nurses and other medical staff from the awareness of how terrifying such an event can be or how it can undermine one’s sense of safety and control, particularly when it results in injury and/or invasive medical treatment.

Although Jack was under hospice care at the time of his fall, the facility sent him to the hospital because of its policy on ruling out head injury. Most hospices and facilities have protocols governing their response to falls. These typically include timely […]

2017-07-19T07:34:30+00:00 July 19th, 2017|Nursing|2 Comments

The Challenge of Caring for a Graying Prison Population

Photo by Ackerman + Gruber An elderly prisoner in hospice care. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

Inmates 54 or older are the fastest growing age demographic in U.S. prisons. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the percentage of inmates who are 54 or older jumped from 3% to 8% in two decades (1991–2011). Criminal justice experts say the increase is probably an effect of the longer sentences of 1980s antidrug laws.

A 2014 report by the Vera Institute of Justice asserts that “prisons and jails are generally ill-equipped to meet the needs of elderly patients who may require intensive services” for their medical conditions. Correctional staff often lack training for treating age-related illnesses and prisons typically don’t have the ability to monitor chronic health issues or employ preventative measures. Inmates are often sent off-site for medical treatment beyond what prisons can provide.

Older adults with physical disabilities or cognitive impairments are also more vulnerable to injury, abuse, and psychological decompensation in the prison setting. “ [T]he prison environment is, by design, an extremely poor place to house and care for people as they age or become increasingly ill or disabled,” said a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union report. Even reliance on devices like wheelchairs, walkers, or breathing aids can present logistical hardships for inmates in facilities that were designed to accommodate a younger population.

This month’s […]

2016-11-21T13:01:23+00:00 March 15th, 2016|Nursing, nursing perspective|0 Comments

The Balancing Act: A Dying Patient and a Spouse Who Can’t Let Go

Illustration by McClain Moore Illustration by McClain Moore

The Reflections essay in the March issue of AJN is called “The Balancing Act.” The author describes a situation she faced as an ICU nurse in which her efforts to keep a dying patient comfortable were complicated by a spouse’s reluctance to accept the inevitable. It’s often hard to advocate for a patient while honoring the emotional struggle of a close family member. Here’s the start of the essay.

I have just arrived to work in the ICU and am assigned a patient in respiratory distress. Her name is Darlene and her husband Tom is pacing the room. Within 10 minutes, he drinks three cups of coffee, ignoring the cot provided by the previous nurse so he could sleep next to Darlene. His wife has more than one cancer and both are growing. She left the hospital a week ago for hospice care, but has been readmitted after a decision by her husband to reattempt curative treatment.


2016-11-21T13:01:24+00:00 March 9th, 2016|Nursing, nursing perspective, Patients|2 Comments

Unexplained Deathbed Phenomena: Honoring Patient and Family Experience

By Betsy Todd, MPH, RN, CIC, AJN clinical editor

by luke andrew scowen/flickr creative commons luke andrew scowen/flickr creative commons

When my dad died, a special little travel clock that he’d given me years before stopped working. It restarted a week after his death, and continued running for years. I have no explanation for this sudden lapse in timekeeping, but it made me feel closer to my dad.

I’ve heard many other stories of unusual events surrounding the death of a loved one. I was therefore delighted to read this month’s Viewpoint column, “Letting Patients and Families Interpret Deathbed Phenomena for Themselves.” In this short essay, Scott Janssen presents some intriguing research findings and a compassionate argument for speaking openly about these occurrences. He writes:

“It’s an open secret among those of us working with the dying – there’s a lot of strange stuff going on for patients, as well as for the clinicians and family members who care for them, that rarely if ever gets talked about: near-death experiences, synchronistic coincidences (stopped clocks at time of death, for example), out-of-body experiences, and visitations from deceased loved ones.”

Janssen, a former hospice social worker and now a psychotherapist, sees such phenomena as part of “the normal continuum of experiences at the end of life.” He calls upon clinicians to create safe contexts in which patients and families can share these experiences without fear that they will be judged, ridiculed, or dismissed by caregivers.

It’s food for […]