Knowing nurse a comfort to others who come face to face with dying
Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series following Marcia Haberman and her family in their experiences with Roaring Fork Hospice.
By Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff
BATTLEMENT MESA – Marcia Carlyle has a special understanding of what Marcia Haberman is going through.
Haberman was diagnosed with terminal cancer last summer. Since February, Carlyle, along with other Roaring Fork Hospice nurses and staff, has been visiting Haberman at the Battlement Mesa home she shares with her husband Chuck, monitoring medications, listening to concerns and sharing the last stages of Haberman’s life.
Carlyle knows what it feels like to have cancer. She was diagnosed three years ago with breast cancer. Now, eight surgeries and countless chemotherapy and radiation treatments later, it is in remission.
Carlyle said her experiences with her own cancer have prepared her for her work at hospice.
“I used to be really afraid of death,” she said quietly. “Now, I’m not afraid anymore.”
Stages of life and death
Carlyle said that with Roaring Fork Hospice she sees patients go through many stages of the dying process.
She said people with terminal illnesses are given the time and opportunity to experience phases of living and dying that someone who is killed in a car accident, for instance, cannot.
“That’s why hospice is such a beautiful process. With hospice, people have alternatives. They have choices.
“Everybody does it a little different,” Carlyle continued. “But there are basic things people do.”
Carlyle said many people feel anger and fear when diagnosed with a fatal disease.
“Some people never get past that,” she said. “It’s sad to see that, because those people generally have a restless, unsettled death.”
Following those initial unsettled feelings, most people facing death try to get their lives in order.
“They’ll say what they need to say,” Carlyle said. “And they get their spiritual, financial and mental lives in order.”
Relationships between family and friends and the dying person come into play at this point too, Carlyle said.
“And there are family dynamics separate from the dying person. It’s not just one thing. It’s multifaceted.”
Following those processes, many people go through an acceptance phase.
“It’s at this point that people accept that the end of their life as they know it is nearing,” Carlyle said.
Carlyle said people will often re-evaluate their belief systems at this point.
“I consider death another stage of life,” said Carlyle. “It’s a continuum, a circle.”
She said she’s seen many people who reach this stage achieve a sense of calm and peacefulness, followed by a type of withdrawal.
“Marcia is going through that withdrawal now,” she said of hospice patient Marcia Haberman. “I can see her withdrawing from the outside world. It’s a time for retrospection. It’s so vital that she have quiet time with members of her family now.”
Carlyle said she’s noticed Haberman is also experiencing some frustration.
“Marcia has always been very active,” Carlyle said. “So it’s very frustrating to her to not be able to do what she’s been able to do her whole life. Her body is just not responding like she’s used to.”
Carlyle said people often get deeply tired during this stage because of a combination of pain medication and the increasingly hard work of simply staying alive.
“When you stop and think of it, the body is fighting a war and its instinct is to fight this foreign thing that’s entered the body,” said Carlyle. “That’s exhausting.”
During the final stages, Carlyle said, people often experience what others would consider hallucinations.
“They have vivid dreams and visions, and they often will talk to people who have died before them,” she said.
The final stage usually involves the dying person slipping into a coma.
“That’s when the physical body is literally letting go,” said Carlyle, adding that sometimes it can take several weeks for the person to die.
Peace and dignity
All through the process, Carlyle said, hospice can help.
“My personal philosophy is to provide peace and dignity to those who are dying,” she said. “Three years ago I didn’t know beans about the dying process, and now, I know being a hospice nurse is truly what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Carlyle said she spent more than 30 years as a registered nurse, “in a sterile environment, with beeps and buzzes and lots of other nurses and doctors around.
“There’s an astronomical difference between dying in a hospital and dying in your own home, in your own bed, on your own terms,” she said.
And being part of a hospice team that can help in that process has been “a privilege,” said Carlyle.
“It’s the three Cs,” she said. “We’re there to comfort, to communicate, and to give the patient the control they deserve,” she said.
“Every day patients teach me how to live – and die – gracefully.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
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