May 29, 2019

A Day in the Life of Amy Johnson, Hospice Nurse

Amy Johnson, a nurse with Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro (HPCG), arrives at Whitestone Retirement community at 11 a.m., with nothing but her laptop bag and an ever-present smile. As soon as she enters the lobby, she is excitedly greeted—and often hugged—by every person she passes.

Amy pops her head into the dining room, where dozens of staff and residents are gathered for lunch. She is met by yet another chorus of “AMY!”

Amy makes her way around the dining table, giving a shoulder squeeze and a joyful “How are you feeling?” or “Are you enjoying your lunch?” to every patient she passes.

As Amy walks toward the nurse’s station, she sees a nurse’s aide and pulls her aside: “How is Lorna doing today? Any change?”

The aide replies, “She hasn’t talked or moved much. She seems to be declining quickly.”

Clearly concerned, Amy hurries to her patient’s room. Amy’s normally bubbly mood has quickly turned into gentle concern. “Hi, Miss Lorna. It’s Amy—I’m here to visit you.”

Hymns are playing softly on Lorna’s radio. “Miss Lorna has a very strong faith,” Amy says, arranging some crocheted angels on Lorna’s pillow. “That’s why she always has angels around her.”

Lorna has been Amy’s patient for many months. As they’ve gotten to know each other, Amy has listened to stories of Lorna’s long and full life. She points to a picture on the dresser. “That’s her and her husband on vacation in the mountains.”

In recent weeks, Lorna’s health has declined rapidly. She responds when Amy holds her hand by lightly stirring but otherwise remains in a peaceful-looking sleep.

In the hour that follows, Amy talks to Lorna, holds her hand and gently examines her. More than anything, her focus is on Lorna’s comfort.

“I don’t like the angle of her neck; that doesn’t look comfortable,” Amy mutters. She quickly searches the room for another pillow, gently lifts Lorna’s head while talking softly to her, and props up her neck. “That’s better.”

“Miss Lorna does not like her socks to be too tight on her toes. She likes wiggle room. It’s very important to her; she reminded me every visit for the first few months.” Amy lifts the covers and pulls the toes of Lorna’s socks before re-tucking her blankets. “Your socks are the way you like them, Miss Lorna.”

After saying a quiet goodbye to Lorna, Amy is off to update her chart at the nurse’s station.  An HPCG social worker arrives shortly after, and they work next to each other while catching up on patients.

Amy notices another of her patients relaxing on a recliner nearby, and walks over to check in. “Hi Charles, how are you today?”

Charles lights up at Amy’s presence. “I’m doing OK!” he says softly.

She and Charles talk and laugh together as she seamlessly proceeds through the exam- checking Charles’ blood pressure, examining his skin and listening to his heart and stomach with her stethoscope. “Has your wife been here yet today?” Amy asks.

“Not yet, but she should be here any minute. Maybe you’ll get to see her.” Midway through the exam, Charles complains that his feet are hot. Amy carefully removes his shoes. Soon, Charles begins to get tired and drift off. Amy gently finishes her exam before leaving him to nap. Then, it’s back to finish charting.

Amy’s day as a long term care hospice nurse seems to balance two main things: patient care and meticulous documentation.

But to Amy, nursing duties far exceed blood pressure tests and temperature-taking. Most of her time is spent connecting with her patients, identifying what makes them uncomfortable, and taking immediate action to ease that discomfort. Whether she does this herself or coordinates with facility staff and doctors, Amy seems to leave no loose ends when it comes to the comfort of her patients.

A hospice nurse’s charge isn’t necessarily to heal. After all, hospice patients are dying. Yet whether they’re caring for a patient’s wound or adjusting the toes of their socks, hospice nurses improve the quality of the time their patients have left.

“It’s an honor to connect with my patients and ease their journey into whatever comes next. Losing patients is hard, but the memories and connections I make to each person have given immense joy and beauty to my life. I was called to this job, and I’m grateful every day for the calling.”