Moments That Stay with You a Lifetime

aging in place

The simple act of caring is heroic.

~ Edward Albert


Aging in Place

My nursing career has lasted now almost 4 decades and provided countless human moments that I will take to the grave.

One night in the Intensive Care Unit I was assigned two patients; one was an elderly man (“DNR” Do Not Resuscitate) and a younger patient who was critically ill. The younger patient was septic from an infection that had gone throughout the body, and it was shutting down rapidly.

The patient was in what is known as septic shock a life-threatening danger and requires often a 2:1 nurse staffing ratio (2 nurses to 1 patient due to the labor-intensive nature of the care required). So needless to say, I had no time to invest in the elderly man who was dying in the bed next to the patient we were trying to save.

Despite the fact the elderly man was a DNR, and there was little I could do to make his situation better, I still felt a tug on my heart because he was being neglected—and most likely would pass on my shift.

Singing Angel

One of my colleagues (RN) saw what was going on and quickly asked if there was anything she could do to help. I responded, YES Clair, can you just look in on my guy next door? —I don’t have time to get to him…

Side note, Clair was a nurse I’d worked with for years, she was quirky, off beat, a musician and music teacher on her off hours. Some didn’t care for her because they couldn’t relate to her eccentricities; that’s why I liked her.

I felt some relief that Clair was going to assess my elderly patient, because it had been over an hour since I saw him last. In ICU that is not anywhere near acceptable, and my burden was temporarily relieved.

Suddenly, behind me I heard this faint yet soft and lovely lullaby coming from the other side of the curtains. It seemed so out of place among the beeps, alarms, and frantic pace in front of me. I gently pulled the curtain aside and there was Clair, holding the hand of the dying patient, stroking his dry brittle gray hair while singing softly to him as she would putting her own children to bed.

The monitor slowed down for some time, the beats associated with each heart contraction became fewer in number, his respirations were shallower and slower, and Clair kept on comforting him until the end.

Nursing Acts of Kindness

Who was this man in life? Where was his family? What were his dreams? Did he know he didn’t die alone? I would like to say this was an isolated case, but I had been in on many individuals who passed in the unit alone around strangers under fluorescent lights and machines that once kept them alive.

On this night one nurse cared enough to hold a hand and do what she thought was the kindest thing, sing to him and provide human touch until he took his last breath.

I will never forget that night, that shift, that act of human kindness…

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