We were reminiscing recently at a brunch we set up. It had been many years since we had seen each other. Eventually, we went our separate ways. But we reconnected once again.
Anna was one of our night shift nurses. She was bright and articulate. She eventually became a preceptor and mentor to many new ICU nurses.
The “night shifters” are on an island of their own. We form a special family, camaraderie and trust with each other. We are a special team.
Our ICU was a 24-bed, high-acuity unit — all beds full.
Each patient had their own diagnosis. But beyond the diagnosis was a person and beyond that person was a family.
Anna took care of a 42-year-old female. Last ditch efforts were made to save her life. She was young with a husband and two children.
The patient sadly was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.
Eventually, the patient had to go on the ventilator. Her BP dropped dangerously. She had a central line inserted and added IV drips of Levophed and vasopressin.
Anna was at her side. And so was the patient’s husband, Jeffrey.
Jeffrey came in every night to be at his wife’s side. He held her hand and talked to her. He read to her. Poetry, the Bible, talked to her about their two small girls. But his wife lay there deteriorating. Jeffrey knew the outcome was dismal.
Faithfully, every night, he slowly walked through that ICU door.
And every night, he was greeted by Anna, RN.
“Hello, Jeffrey,” she’d always be there to say hi to him. She’d stand by his side as he sadly looked at his wife.
It was a slow shuffle every night for two weeks. But Anna was always there to greet Jeffrey and talk to him. And she would smile at him with her caring eyes.
Because we all knew the truth, we all knew this young lady was not going to make it.
Jeffery spoke with the physicians and with Anna. It was futile. With breast cancer that ravaged her body, they made her a DNR. She was extubated, and we all provided her with comfort. We made sure she was not in pain.
Jeffrey knew the time had come. The day he woke up and felt his wife drifting away.
He made his last walk through the ICU to see his wife one more time, to hold her hand one more time.
And there was Anna to greet him. Her smile. Her caring eyes.
Jeffrey said his goodbyes to his wife as she drifted away. Her slow agonal breathing. And then her final breath. The EKG with a straight line. Cancer had taken her life.
Jeffrey sadly walked toward the ICU door to exit. But on his way out, he stopped to talk to Anna.
He said to Anna:
“Every day, I came into this unit, and you said hi and called me by name. There were days when that was the only good thing that happened. I wanted you to know that. Thank you.”
And then he walked away.
Anna burst into tears.
As we drank our coffee at this restaurant, tears rose in Anna’s eyes.
She told me how this defining moment in her ICU career taught her an important lesson about the value of kindness. And how simple, seemingly unimportant acts can hugely affect the people around us.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com