This evening my aunt, who is a primary nurse at the Rockyview General Hospital, shared with me a bit about her experiences as a nurse both before and amidst the pandemic.
In particular, she told me about a program initiated in 2015 called No One Dies Alone. This project of Alberta Health Services is a effort to ensure that any patient, who is without family or friends to visit them as they approach death, is met with some form of intentional companionship.
My aunt told me that, throughout the entire pandemic, she does not think anyone has died alone at her hospital. Most have had family and friends who were able to visit and for those who did not, they were accompanied by volunteers or clergy.
Those who might otherwise be at risk of dying alone tend to be persons who are estranged from their relatives or may be immigrants to Canada who do not have family here.
The No One Dies Alone program is really for anybody who is not accompanied around the clock. And so, even if family and friends are visiting the patient, if these people need some reprieve, then others can step in to accompany their loved one.
When I asked if my aunt ever finds it hard to converse with someone so close to death, she assured me that if the person can still converse normally, then they are not that close to death.
“And so, it’s mostly a matter of being present. They are restless and so it’s usually a matter of holding the person’s hand, of making them feel safe,” she said.
Sometimes nurses or volunteers will play comforting music, since hearing is the last sense to go.
She also told me that accompaniment is critical for the families, too. It can be very hard for family members to witness their loved one’s last breath. The No One Dies Alone program, therefore, is also to ensure that the family and friends of the patient are accompanied so that they themselves do not feel abandoned once their loved one dies.
Tonight I learned about one other Alberta Health Services initiative, the White Rose Program.
As the site explains, “When a person is in the last hours to days of life a White Rose poster is placed at the entrance of their bed or room. This visual reminder increases staff awareness to help provide a calm and quiet environment respectful of unique needs of the dying person and those most important to them.”
Before the pandemic, my aunt noted, this program would also involve the provision of coffee and cookies to the visitors of the dying person.
“It was really good for the person approaching death to experience a social inside the room with their family surrounding them,” she told me.
Such a gathering brought the comfort and reassurance to all of knowing that they were involved in one another’s lives until the very end.