A SDSU nursing alum shares a story of the impact a nurse has.
I am immensely proud of being a nurse, and what our profession does in the world. Even though I have moved into an administrative role, I carry the heart of nursing with me where I go. Thank you to each one of you for what you do every day, particularly in this bizarre season. There is perhaps no more trusted and honored profession than nursing. We know, when people need care most, nurses are there to make the difference.
There is a story I like to share – it is the moment I fully grasped how precious the nursing career is and how much we are trusted. I was a very new nurse, maybe 3 months into my career, when I was working on a cardiac/telemetry floor in Sioux Falls, SD. I was very young and very green J My floor rarely did hospice care, but occasionally patients would prefer to stay on our floor for end of life care. So it was, in 2007, when I was assigned to a man named Gill on a stretch of nightshifts.
Gill was in his 60’s and dying from severe end stage COPD. He loved his grandkids and fishing, and reminded me of my Grandpa who died at 65. Over several evenings, I got to know Gill and his wife, though Gill declined rapidly and was unconscious after only a few days. They seemed to have an odd amount of trust in a brand new nurse that I didn’t quite understand. One evening when I came on shift, Gill’s IV had infiltrated, and the morphine drip that had kept him breathing comfortably had stopped. I found several nurses fighting a delusional Gill, trying desperately to start a new IV. When I walked in, his wife exclaimed, “Oh Chris is here, he’ll get it!”. Yikes. Somehow, I sunk an IV into the rolliest forearm vein I had ever seen and we got him comfortable again.
As Gill declined rapidly over just a few days, I began to tell my charge nurse he would die soon. I hadn’t seen a death in hospice – only the sudden, unexpected death from working as a tech in the ER during school. But Gill had the “death rattle” my mom, a hospice nurse, had told me about, and everything in my gut told me he’d be gone soon. That night my charge nurse told me to settle down, I was just nervous and young, and Gill had weeks left to live.
About 2am that morning, I was charting at our dim, quiet nursing station, when Gill’s wife walked down the dark hall and said simply, “I think he’s gone”. I went with her to Gill’s room, and was suddenly overwhelmed with a new terror – I had spent 4 years learning how to tell if people were dying – but not if they were dead. I checked Gill’s pulse, listened for heart tones, and said, “He’s passed”.
Then came the moment where the years of working as a patient care tech, nursing student, and ICU intern all came together in an instant of clarified purpose. We experienced a holy, silent moment, as Gill’s wife wept gently at the bedside in the dark room of Cardiac 3000. I stood quietly by, not knowing what to do or what to say. Instead, she was the first to speak. She turned and said, “He would be so glad it was you here tonight”.
I was awestruck, and immediately felt the deep understanding of what nurses are to people. It was a moment of transcendent understanding of our profession: here I was with a virtual stranger – we had known each other only days. I was perhaps the least qualified nurse on the floor with only months of experience. Yet the first words uttered from a woman who had just lost her spouse of 40 years were for me: “I’m glad it is you here”.
As nurses, we have the privilege of entering the most sacred relationships with those who need care. Sometimes these relationships are formed in only a few minutes, other times they are formed over months and years. This is a calling and a purpose, and when lived out, achieves our mission every day. When we work with intention, even when our patients don’t say it, they are glad it is you there.