August 7, 2023

Discussing Compassion and End-of-Life Care With Hadley the Hospice Nurse

Discussing Compassion and End-of-Life Care With Hadley the Hospice Nurse

Image: Nurse Hadley

In this episode of the Ask Nurse Alice podcast, host Alice Benjamin welcomes hospice nurse and bestselling author Hadley Vlahos. Hadley shares her experiences and insights as a hospice nurse, discussing the importance of providing compassionate end-of-life care and the challenges faced by healthcare professionals in these situations. Alice and Hadley also touch on the role of hospice nurses in supporting patients and their families, as well as the impact of social media in raising awareness about the death and dying process.

This content used under license from "Ask Nurse Alice."

Hadley’s nursing journey

Hadley explains that her nursing journey began out of a need to provide a stable income for her son as a single mom. Originally wanting to be a writer, Hadley decided to switch gears when she found out she was pregnant, opting for a career path that would provide her and her son with more stability. 

“Life leads us in all different directions and I'm very grateful for nursing,” she tells Nurse Alice.

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Alice reiterates that everyone has their own personal story for why they chose nursing, sharing her own experience with her father dying of a heart attack in the emergency department. 

“My dad died of a massive heart attack in an emergency room and I felt like he wasn't attended to. I felt like there were gaps in the care and not confident in the team. So, my inspiration to go into nursing was like, you know what, I don't want anybody's family to experience this. I want to be there and help champion and handhold patients and families through these types of processes, how to navigate the system…So, that's kind of been like my life's work and my mission in nursing,” Nurse Alice explains.

After being turned down for a Labor and Delivery position, Hadley felt discouraged and feared that she would never be happy in nursing. She took a job in intermediate care, which led her to a management position at a nursing home, where she says her eyes were opened to the hospice specialty.

“When I saw those nurses sit one-on-one with patients and care not only about what was going on medically, but holistically as well…what the families needed, how they were feeling and not having anything to do except be with that one patient for 30 minutes to an hour, I was like that is what I need to be doing. That is absolutely what I love,” she tells Nurse Alice in the episode.

Embracing the mystery of death

Hadley says her transition into end-of-life care was difficult because she struggled with separating her work life from her personal life. She tells Nurse Alice that therapy helped her create professional boundaries in order to support her patients and herself.

“I had to learn–I feel human empathy for these people and I care for them from that spot without thinking that this is my own thing that I am going through. And I am here to help and to aid, but I don't need to take on every death like it is my own family member,” she explains to Nurse Alice.

Hadley’s goal, when she is with a dying patient, is to make sure that everyone in the room feels accepting of the death. Creating this goal ensures that Hadley doesn’t leave feeling sad or discouraged. 

She also acknowledges that some end-of-life situations defy scientific logic or what we are taught in nursing school. 

“I've seen people who have been bed bound for years, all of a sudden get out of bed. And you're like, that doesn't make any sense. Or you have people see deceased loved ones. For a while, I kind of was like, maybe they're hallucinations. But then that doesn't make sense. As we know, hallucinations, people don't all hallucinate the same thing. And they don't all feel calm or at peace. So, that's not really the correct definition of it, in my mind. So, then you start thinking of, well, what is it? And the only thing I do know is that everyone sees their deceased loved ones, and they feel very calm and peaceful about it. And we do all see these things, like you said, and we don't learn about it. And no one really talks about it,” she tells Nurse Alice.

Death fosters unexpected connections

Hadley decided to write a book as a way of providing support to both nurses and dying patients and their loved ones. The In-Between: Unforgettable Encounters During Life’s Final Moments details Hadley’s experiences as a new hospice nurse and the poignant stories of her patients. She also shares the personal story about the death of her mother-in-law.

Hadley emphasizes that being a hospice nurse isn’t always a sad experience because it provides the nurse with a very special opportunity to care for a patient one-on-one at the end of their life.

“I think you're giving people their life back whenever you come on hospice. For so many people, especially people with cancer or terminal diseases, a lot of their life before coming on hospice is a lot of doctor's appointments, a lot of waiting around for results, a lot of worry. And for once in their life, there's not all of that. It's just at your home with your family and friends and getting to really take back what you want to do with us coming to them. And I think there's a lot of beauty in that. We can't change the outcome. We can't change when we're going to die. But whenever you get to take your power back and decide what you're going to do with it, there can be a lot of beauty in that,” she explains in the episode.

What to learn more about Hadley? Be sure to follow her on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Her book, The In-Between: Unforgettable Encounters During Life’s Final Moments, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book retailers.

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