My husband and I have been married for 27 years, and have been together for 29. We were high school sweethearts. I love to think back on those days. I was the cheerleader and he was the jock from a small town high school. I used to sit in the middle of his truck seat while we were on dates, snuggled up close. I couldn’t get enough of being near him! Today it really is still like that for us… I know people will moan and groan at reading that, but by the grace of God it is true.
I say this because I was witness to the sweetest and saddest thing today, and as a nurse it was my honor to be a part of it.
I walked into the room of my newest patient, a 94 year old woman with increased confusion. She was sent to the ER from her nursing home residence. Her chart tells me that she has dementia and a long history of UTI’s and resulting sepsis.
“Good morning _____, I’m Bobbi and I will be your nurse today,” I say as I enter the room, put the chart on the counter and move to the stretcher.
She says nothing, and only watches me. Her eyes are large and brown. She seems to go long periods with blinking…but her eyes see me~ they are not vacant. She has elegant white hair that is styled in a rather severe bun on top of her head, held in place with a gold scrunchy elastic.
“Your care givers are concerned that you may be sick, so they sent you to the ER for a check up…I need to do my assessment now if you don’t mind.”
Again, nothing but her eyes watching me. No recognition of my words making sense.
As I undress her to look for any indication of infection (sores, wounds or skin breakdown) I continue to tell her what I’m doing and why. I change her into a johnny, listen to her heart and lung sounds, give her warm blankets and place her on our vital sign monitor. I collect a fem-cath urine sample, draw blood while starting her IV and do an EKG.
“I’m finished for now Mrs. _____. I have to go and give this EKG to the doctor and then I will return in a few minutes. Here is your call bell, this red button is the one to push if you need me.”
Just as I start to leave the room a very elderly man enters and introduces himself to me as “…….’s husband.” He is dressed in a navy blue sport coat over a black sweater, dark gray pants and a very dapper gray hat. He walks hunched over with a cane for support. His eye brows are very full and seem to move on their own as he spoke. His accent sounds British. I explained to him what I have done so far with his wife and what we would be looking for. I pulled up a chair by the bed for him to sit. He shook my hand and smiled. His large arthritic hand is very cold. He moved to the bed and leaned over the rail and kissed his wife on the lips. She smiled, but didn’t speak. He then took the chair I had offered but continued to hold his wife’s hand through the stretcher rail.
“We have been married for 75 years.” He said.
An ER tech stepped inside and took the EKG from me and winked.
“Congratulations, what is the secret to such a long marriage?” I inquire as I sit on the stool next to him. (I knew I had other patients but nothing was immediately pressing and I just felt compelled to sit and talk to this man.)
“Empathy for one another’s start in life, passion for the teenager you once were with each other and for the man and woman you grew into, pride in the other’s strengths and overlooking most weaknesses and Love ….Love for child of God that you married.” He answered while holding his wife’s wrinkled hand in his.
I became a little teary as he shared this with me, as he was a little teary. I told him of my husband and my children and that I felt so blessed. He told me that God puts 2 people together to make them one, to make them stronger and to make them whole. He told me that they had raised 4 children and 14 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, and that his wife loved him and their children fiercely and that, “it just kills them that she cannot communicate with them anymore.”
He stood and once again kissed her lips. She once again smiled but said nothing. He then said to me, “she may not be able to communicate with words anymore but when I kiss her she still smiles at me the same way she always did….so I still kiss her on the lips as much as I can.”
He went on to tell me about her…”She was a school teacher for 50 years you know. She loved teaching. She also cooked all of our meals from scratch. She sang while she cooked, or hummed…but always moving and singing. She loved to dance, and we used to go to the dance hall on Saturday nights with our friends…she lit up the room.” He stopped to get a hanky from his pocket and wipe his eyes and blow his nose.
The doctor came in, oblivious to our conversation and oblivious to the gift that I had just been given. I looked at my patient, she was watching us with a smile on her face. I saw her from his memories. I thanked him for sharing with me…for allowing me a glimpse into their world. He winked at me and tipped his hat.
I wanted to share this story during Nurses Week because of what it represents. As nurses we have a huge responsibility and a unnumbered amount of tasks that have to be performed in one shift to deliver safe and quality care to our patients. Sometimes we forget that in order to truly deliver quality care we must take time to sit, to listen and to see into the world our patient and their families live. Holistic care is the only kind of nursing care that gives the heart of nursing to the patient and delivers the patients heart right back to us. It is the only kind of nursing that will sustain our practices… Without tending to the patient’s mind, body AND spirit we dishonor part of them. By tending to the mind, body AND spirit we not only honor them BUT we get honored in return. This honor empowers and strengthens us both.
Happy Nurses Week.