A Voice for Her Patients
Niki Maag pushes one of her patients in a wheelchair through the quiet halls of a Sanford Hospice Cottage.
The elderly woman dozes on and off, no longer able to easily communicate with words. Yet she grasps Niki’s hand, a smile on her sleepy face as the registered nurse gently strokes her arm and cheek.
“It means so much to me to be part of my patients’ lives, to care for them at such an important time,” says Niki, who fell in love with hospice nursing while assisting with patients in this same building. “It’s an honor to be part of this sacred time in their lives.”
A sacred calling
Niki’s job is to provide medical care and support to patients and families during an end-of-life illness. For nearly 10 years, Niki has worked for Sanford Health as a hospice nurse, caring for patients ranging from just days old to over a century.
She went to nursing school knowing end-of-life care would be her chosen field. As a college biology major, she had worked part-time at the cottage and when she watched the hospice nurses she was impressed with their compassion and strength.
After college graduation, she continued to work at the hospice cottage, going back to school over a two-year period to earn her nursing degree. Her first nursing job was in medical oncology, but she gladly applied to become a hospice RN as soon as a position came available.
“Every day, I’m eager to get to work,” Niki said. “I feel so lucky to do a job that I feel called to do.”
Quality of life care
Every day she meets one-on-one with patients, spending time talking with them and their relatives or caregivers. Some live in their own homes or with relatives while others come to stay at one of Sanford’s two hospice cottages in Sioux Falls. She works with a team of professionals that include medical staff, social workers and chaplains, coming up with solutions to meet patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
“People often have the wrong idea about hospice care, that it is all about death,” Niki said. “Our patients celebrate milestones and we have lots of happy times. It’s about living each day to the fullest.”
Niki said she sees herself as an advocate, someone who is there to speak for her patients and to help them and their families through the hospice process. Families who have been through months or years of fighting disease sometimes need to be gently reminded and assisted with the transition to a different type of care that focuses on quality of life instead.
“It’s my job to help the families and friends understand what the patient is going through,” Niki said. “The patient is the one who is in control. Our focus is on living and what we can do to help.”
She approaches her patients delicately and respectfully, helping them meet their goals and take care of any medical needs, with a focus on improving the quality of their daily life. Niki said she looks forward to her regular visits with patients, sometimes over the course of months or even years.
Families often use the time they have, toward the end of a loved one’s life, to reconnect and spend time. Watching people have a chance to celebrate their life and say their good-byes is an incredible experience, she says.
“It’s a gift to get to know people and to sit next to them and get to know them,” she says. “I see so much strength in many of my patients. It’s a blessing to have a chance to connect.”
Niki said she and her colleagues are dedicated to making the most of life with each and every patient.
“We have patients who come from every situation and every walk of life,” Niki said. “I’m proud of the fact that everyone who comes here, everyone we work with, is treated like they are the most important person. Everyone deserves to be treated with such dignity and respect.”
Posted Date: April 2012