It was a case that every physician dreads. I took a deep breath, mustered up some courage and walked towards my patient’s room. When I entered, I saw an apprehensive and anxious family who was patiently waiting for some answers. The mother was sitting at bedside with eyes closed, hands clung to a rosary and lips whispering a prayer. The patient’s sister was standing by the window, looking out with despondent eyes while contending those coercive tears.
I approached the patient’s father and was met with a somber yet stoic face. It was a face of a father engaged in a conflict between realism and hope.
I told the father that his 28-year-old daughter was breathing her last. She had an extremely aggressive form of cancer that had invaded her body. My words deepened their despair and confirmed their worst fear. As palpable anguish and heartache invaded the room, I wanted to pray with the mother and cry with the sister.
Ultimately, I offered my condolences and left the room.
I felt defeated and dejected when I walked out but had to compose myself and move on to the next patient.
This case, once again, reminded me to live life to the fullest and to be grateful every single day.
Eventually, the patient passed away peacefully. A few days later, I discovered what happened after I left that room and it elevated my respect for nurses even more.
As a physician, I spent about 30 minutes in that room. The nurse who was taking care of the patient was with the family for countless hours. She took care of the grieving family and provided immense comfort and emotional support.
As the patient was nearing her demise, the family asked the nurse if they could record their daughter’s heartbeat. It was a request like no other. A request that the nurse had never addressed before and she made it her mission to fulfill it.
She enlisted the help of a few other nurses, and they first tried to use an innovative stethoscope that records sounds. They read the manual and tried to record the heartbeat, but the attempts failed. Then, after some brainstorming, they called the labor and delivery floor and asked one of the nurses if they could borrow the fetal doppler ultrasound.
The machine allows parents to hear a baby’s heartbeat during pregnancy. The situation at hand was on the opposite end of the spectrum. The parents of my patient wanted to hear and commemorate the vibrant beat of a dying heart.
When the nurse on the busy labor and delivery floor heard the details, she brought down the ultrasound herself. The ultrasound machine enabled the family to hear their dying daughter’s heartbeat and record the sounds on their phone.
The extraordinary effort from the remarkable nurses granted the family a tragic yet promising prospect. The viable sound of the heart reminded the family of their daughter’s vigor. It emboldened their desire to cherish her smile. It inspired an eagerness to protect her dreams. Although transient, the vivacious rhythm accorded a heartbroken family a glimmer of hope.
This story highlights the exceptional qualities of nurses. As a physician, I learn something new from my amazing nurses every day.
Unfortunately, I sometimes see other physicians reproach nurses on a regular basis. I have personally seen nurses not drink water all day and give fluids to a dehydrated patient in a timely manner. I have seen nurses miss meals and tolerate a tirade from a patient about a cold meal while toiling with their own hunger.
I firmly believe that the relationship between a nurse and physician should be one of collaboration without hierarchy. It takes a very special person to become a nurse. Without them, physicians cannot function.
I thank all the nurses for working endless hours, always putting patients first and sacrificing their own needs. I thank them for teaching me and motivating me to become a better physician every day.
Neha Sharma is a hospitalist. This article originally appeared in the El Paso Times.
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