Let's talk about death

5.03.2013

If you're reading this, then I'm glad you're here and didn't just skip today's post from fear of the morbid title.

On Wednesday, I encouraged my readers to share their most rewarding experience in their lives.
I have genuinely loved reading all comments and understanding what makes my readers tick.

Today I wanted to share with you my most rewarding experience.
You all know that I'm a nurse, and you might have read this post about "Why I do what I do".
As I share this story with you, the information of the individual has been protected for HIPPA purposes.

After graduating in December of 2011, I was ready to dive into the nursing field. I was an eager new grad who wanted to roll up her sleeves, get a little messy, and save lives. I went in, looking to be the master at a skill. Maybe I would be the best one to start an IV. Maybe I would be the one everyone ran to to drop a NG tube. I also hoped that I would be a patient nurse, that I would listen and advocate for my patients. I wanted to be the nurse that took the time to put the pieces together, and solve the mystery diagnosis. I wanted to be certified to hang chemotherapy, the life saving stuff. I wanted it all and to be hailed the next Florence Nightingale.

See any reoccurring theme? Me...ME...ME
I wanted to be the hero, and I wanted all the glory for all the blood, sweat, tears and bodily fluids I had endured throughout nursing school.

Do you remember the cartoon with the roadrunner and the coyote? That poor coyote ALWAYS had an anvil dropped on his head. Did anyone else ever wonder how the heck is he still chasing that roadrunner? Surely all those concussions would send him into retirement by now.
You know, Aikman style....meep meep.

Little did I know, my mentality as a novice {needing to mature} nurse, was just that of the poor coyote. I needed a wake up call...then one day the anvil hit, and it hit hard.

On an oncology unit, our patients are unfortunately "returning customers". The beast of cancer in a hospital setting is that most of the cases we see are fighting for their lives and have the odds against them.

Right after I was released from my residency, I was nervous to have the patients that were on comfort measures only. This means that my job is to transition them to their next step in life and to help them pass peacefully. FYI if you have ever had, or know someone going through this, I can tell you it can be one of the most peaceful occurrences in your life...very cool!
I was nervous because I was 22 years young, and how could I possibly have the words to comfort those who were losing family members.

Then I met my favorite patient. He was a quiet older man who was reserved, but you saw spirit behind his eyes. He never said much, but when he did it was witty, and hit your funny bone spot on. During his long stretch as an inpatient I did not have him as my primary patient because I was not certified to hang chemotherapy drugs yet. But every day I would go into his room to help the nurses hang the drugs so that I could soak up as much knowledge as possible. {me...ME...ME}
I would often find myself still in his room, with his family, far after the chemo had been hung. Chatting about life, listening to his old Navy stories, and best of all listening to advice.

He was a man who had seen many things in his life. He had far more experiences than I may ever have in my lifetime. But he would ask me about me, and give me advice. You know silly little marriage anecdotes, best places to vacation over seas, how to grow in life with your spouse.
I was excited the day I got to send him home, telling him that I better only see him at the mall next time we run into each other.

Fast forward about a month:
I remember this shift very well as if it was yesterday. It was one of my first night shifts flying solo. I took my assignment of five patients and glanced over their names. One name on my list was all too familiar. It was my favorite patient...but things were much different this time.
He had three little words next to his name that made my stomach drop... "comfort measures only".
My heart hurt, but I was immediately drawn to walk to his room. I hadn't received report, but I had to see with my eyes. As soon as I stepped by the room his daughters and wife were there to greet me. Their faces were stained with tears and sadness.

His wife immediately grabbed my hand and asked, "are you his nurse tonight"? As I told them I would be with them that night, the daughters burst into tears telling me that he would be thrilled to know that I would be taking care of him on his last night...
That shift was one of the hardest nights of my newly solo career. I sat in the room with the family sharing stories and memories of my favorite patient. We would laugh, the family would cry and my patient slept. I kept asking the family if he knew that they were ok with him "leaving".

I encouraged them to let him know that is was ok for him to pass. I told them that he was a fighter and that he didn't want to leave his girls. He was their protector and leader of the family. I left the room so that they would be able to tell their dad, and husband these words. Little did they know I went to the break room to cry.

Ten minutes later they come find me to tell me that they think he has passed. They were crying, but this time they were tears of joy. They told me that after they had spoken those words we had previously talked about, that he squeezed his wife's hand, appeared to smile and then let go...
They were overjoyed because they knew he was at peace, they knew he was no longer in pain.
He was no longer suffering.

There is something interesting about death. I'm not sure what happens during this transition but I know that its an important one. I know it's crazy to think my most rewarding time in life would be centered around death. I think about my favorite patient a lot. I wonder what he is thinking, and I wonder if he is watching over me.
Nursing is not about me, it is about my patients. It it helping them transition peacefully only after they had helped me a great deal more than they would ever know.

Thank you for everyone who entered the giveaway for this week. 
If you haven't, stop by here and enter! It ends at 6:00 Eastern time. 
Winner will be announced and contacted after selected.

16 comments:

  1. Beautifully written. Made me tear up.

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  2. :'( CRYING. Reminded me of my dad, a little. Except he was in the ICU comatose for the last month of his life :(

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  3. Hello Casey! Very touching and heartwarming. Thank you for this post. I came across your blog via the Freedom Friday Blog. I'm so glad I did. I'm following you! Please follow me back. If you enjoy my post, please "Like" or leave a comment. I appreciate the support.

    Thank you,

    Vashti

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  4. How blessed you were to be able to see him on his last night! You aren't giving yourself enough credit :)

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  5. Oh, Casey. I lost my grandpa two years ago to cancer. You made me cry remembering how I told him it was Ok for him to go. :) I don't know how you do what you do, but I admire you a lot for it.

    XOXO
    Madi

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  6. You're so amazing and I'm so thankful you do what you do!! That best experience for you was also a great one for them! I may not remember my day's nurses' names, but I'll never forget those days and all that they did for us!

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  7. And now, I'm crying! That is a beautiful story. I love the wisdom that can be gained by simply taking the time to sit and listen to those that have lived so much more life than us. I don't think it was by accident that you were his nurse :) Great writing, great nurse!!

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  8. This was so beautiful.... wow... thank you for sharing!

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  9. This makes me cry. My sister passed away in 2009 after a long illness and those nurses at the end were amazing. Very special ladies - as I know you are too. I admire you and your strength a LOT.

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  10. Thanks for the cry! This was great Casey, glad there are people like you there for people going through these tough times in their life.

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  11. I'm crying. I came over from the SITSSharefest. I'm not sure what I was expecting when you said deep but it wasn't this. I'm really glad I clicked on your post. This is a such beautiful story. It's truly a blessing that there are people out there like you who do what you do. I am quite sure that there was a reason you were his nurse that evening.

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  12. Though late, stopping from the North East Bloggers weekend hop. Glad I am catching up. You seem to have that good knack for the comfort part of the job. Have you ever thought about looking into working for Hospice? When my father was ill with cancer and we got that fateful word from a longtime doctor to look into hospice, we knew what it was about. They were amazing. My father's nurse gave him a little extra pep in his step for his final days. I'm sure it's not easy always having to deal with that aspect, but my oh my, I can't speak highly enough about hospice. The way they treat people and help with so many things, amazing. The end of one's life is extremely hard to deal with and it makes everyone close to that person question their own mortality. Alas, those nurses who do this day in and day out have one heck of a special talent.

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  13. Beautifully written! I'm also stopping by from the NE bloggers hop. I did hospice care for 10 years, and loved every minute of it. It truly takes a special person! xo

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  14. This is an absolutely beautiful post. As someone who worked in an assisted living and often had to talk to someone's loved ones about their passing, it is both extremely hard and extremely rewarding. Even though I've moved on to another profession, I'm so glad I had that experience. Thanks for sharing your story :)

    kendall from buttons & blossoms

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  15. Such a beautiful experience, Casey. I'm currently experiencing losing my grandfather, slowly and painfully, due to cancer. Stage 4. It's been extremely heartbreaking as the days go by, knowing he wants nothing more than to go and be with his wife and by the Lord's side, but not having his last day yet. The pain and suffering is unbearable for me to watch. Thank you for all that you do and for touching the lives of your sweet patients. It definitely takes such a special person, and I am so thankful that you are one of them! :)

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  16. You have such a great perspective, you must be a wonderful nurse. I think oncology is a calling-it takes a special kind of person to do that work. When my dad finished his chemo he went back to the clinic and gave flowers to all the nurses for all they had done for him. Thankful that God puts the right people where they need to be! :) great read, thank you!

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