Robyn Keenan, a Florida hospice nurse, works at least three nights per week — visiting patients in crisis and soothing their loved ones as they grapple with imminent death. How does she manage it all? She weighs in on the importance of different de-stressing techniques, including her bedtime routine.
Wake-Up Call: As a nurse that mainly works with hospice patients, what does your daily schedule typically look like?
Robyn Keenan: I’ve been a nurse since 1997. But I’ve been doing hospice for 15 years now. I work after hours. If there’s a crisis call that comes in, then I go to the patient’s home, to a nursing home, or wherever they need me to go to take care of them. My normal schedule is three nights a week, eight p.m. to eight a.m. But, usually, like this week, I work extra. I’m working around four nights a week. Sometimes they’ll ask me to work day-shifts. It just depends on what my availability is.
It’s my pleasure to do this. When I wasn’t doing hospice, I had a different mindset with nursing. But it’s always been the older population that I’ve kind of been attracted to work with. It’s a calling. Most of society’s not comfortable talking about death, let alone, doing what hospice nurses do.
You’ve been doing this for so long! How has your routine changed since Covid-19 hit? What type of precautions have you taken?
As a nurse, you have to be careful because you don’t want to bring everything home to your family. Luckily, my fiance’s father has his own area in the house. I’ve always practiced good hygiene anyway, but to prevent transmitting anything, I come in through the garage. I strip there, leave my shoes and I go straight into the shower.
Despite my precautions, on August 3rd, I was actually diagnosed with Covid-19. I most likely acquired it somewhere from either a patient or a family member. (Last night I spent 12 hours with two different patients and families. We screen them, but you don’t know where they spend time.) When I found out I was diagnosed, I secluded myself in my room. Luckily, I didn’t pass it on to anyone else in my family.
It’s good to hear that you’re alright! Could you describe what a typical day looks like for you right now?
Last night I worked 12 hours. I got home at like 8:05 a.m., did a couple of chores around the house. I took care of my dogs. (I have a pug, named Finn, and a German Shepherd, named Jasper.) And then I laid down until about 11:30. I’m off work tonight, so I don’t like to sleep all day. But then I work back-to-back 12-hour shifts on Friday and Saturday. So then, I’ll work all night and sleep most of the day.
I, unfortunately, lost my daughter last year to pancreatic cancer. She was 36. And I was in an accelerated RN program when she was diagnosed. She passed away in September. So I dropped out of school and I never finished. I made a promise to her that I’d go back, so I’m also doing chemistry and nutrition online right now. I do it whenever I have time. It’s just a goal she and I had together, so I want to finish it.
It sounds like you’ve had a hard time in the past few years. What parts of your routine are absolutely essential to maintaining your wellbeing right now?
My bedtime routine is so important! On my nights off, whether I’m ready to go to bed or not, I tuck the dogs in, and I sink into my Sleep Number 360 p5 Smart Bed. It actually helps me wind down because it adjusts to my body and helps me relax. I like to read in bed, and I try to avoid watching T.V.
I also do a lot of self-meditation. Since the passing of my daughter and doing the job I do, it is a gift to be there with other people when they’re making their journey, and to help families process their loved ones dying. The job might be stressful for some people but it helps me cope a little better.
Wow, sounds like winding down is necessary for you to keep your well being. How does this change when you’re coming home from a late-night shift?
I do love what I do, but sometimes given the circumstances, it can be hard to unwind. Unfortunately, like last night, I had to pronounce somebody. One visit was a four-hour visit. The other was a five-hour visit, until the gentleman passed away. To decompress, I’ll try to read and not turn on the T.V.
I know you’re busy, so you don’t have a ton of free time on your hands, but have you discovered any new activities during the pandemic?
I’m from Philadelphia, so I’m kind of a city girl. When I moved to Florida, I started kayaking, which was something I thought I’d never do, but it’s actually very peaceful. We just pick a spot somewhere in Florida, google it and we decide to go and explore for a day or two. We don’t have a lot of time because we’re both working full-time.
People reading this might say “heck no,” to my schedule. But I know other people face the same challenges. You have to find a balance and it’s not gonna be perfect every day. Unfortunately, I’m kind of an overachiever and have just learned to remind myself: Here’s what I can do for today. I’m not gonna stress about it, and I’ll deal with whatever else needs to be done tomorrow.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This article originally appeared on Medium.