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Gone But Not Forgotten

Photo credit: Andreas Krappweis
Photo credit: Andreas Krappweis

The room was dark and quiet as I finished up my nursing note.  My patient was tucked into her own bed and finally asleep as her daughter slowly ran her fingers through her mother’s white curls.  I nodded goodbye and stepped out.  Once in the car I checked my phone and found a message from the hospice intake worker that I had another patient to go and see…an urgent open.  I read the directions and something tugged at my brain telling me I knew this address.  I ran into the office to retrieve the paper work.  Once back in my car I opened the file.  The name was that of my friend…my friend that was NOT in the endstage of breast cancer with metastasization.  “What is going on?” I muttered to myself.

I called the intake nurse and asked about the call for this patient.  “I got an urgent call from her doctor telling me that she had just returned from Boston after receiving trial medications that failed…and she is days from dying. She wants to die at home…she asked for you.”  My heart raced and my stomach clenched…tears ran down my face as I heaved in deep breaths…this cant be true…I just talked to her a couple weeks ago and she said how well she was doing…

I prayed during the 20 minute drive for courage, wisdom and strength…I prayed it wasn’t true.

I arrived to be welcomed at the door by my friend’s husband who was in tears.  “Thank goodness your here…she can’t breathe!”  I rushed into the bedroom to find my friend gasping for breath.  Before I could even hug her and find out what happened, I turned up her oxygen to 5 liters (since when did she start using oxygen, my brain yelled!!!) and turned the fan onto her, then started talking softly to her as I stroked her hair off of her forehead.  “Just breathe in and out slowly…that’s it, nice and slow…I’m here now and it’s all going to be okay…slow in and slow out…that’s it, just relax and let the oxygen reach your cells…its okay, its going to be okay.”

As I comforted my friend I surveyed the room.  She was lying on a hospital bed, oxygen was being fed to her by nasal cannula from the compressed air machine and there were a dozen pill bottles lined up on the bed stand.  My eyes found her husband and I gave him a questioning look.  He motioned me to meet him in the other room.  I continued soothing and calming my friend until she fell asleep and then went into the living room.

Between great sobs of anguish he told me, “She was sent home last night by ambulance from Brigham’s and Woman’s…to die.  They set up the home 02 and the bed.  They ordered her lots of pain meds and stuff for anxiety…how are we going to do this?  She was fine last week and then she just got so weak and couldn’t breathe…they x-rayed her and said the cancer was all through her lungs now…”

4 hours later, after her sister arrived, I was driving home with an ache in my chest that truly felt like I would stop breathing myself.  I could not stop crying. I had prepared my friend and her husband as best I could. (She didn’t have long.) I told her I loved her and that I was so sorry for what was happening.  I told her how much her friendship had meant to me and that she was a wonderful mother to her children.  I told her that she taught me how to relax and that she showed me how to laugh with abandon—I told her she would be greatly missed.

She couldn’t talk but she nodded with tears streaming down her face…she grabbed my hands and mouthed,  “I’m not ready.”

5 hours after that I was called to the hospital to be with her.  She was too air starved to stay at home comfortably and her family couldn’t take it.  I arrived to a room full of family—her 2 children (my kids’ ages) and her husband, sisters and friends.  She was getting hooked up to a morphine drip and she was no longer in the present . Her eyes were closed but she gripped my hand when I knelt beside her and kissed her face…I wept.  I was no longer her nurse…I was just her friend…I prayed for her and her family.  I then did something I’ve never done before.

I just knew I was supposed to sing her favorite song…I softly sang to her, Jesus Lover of my Soul, and I watched as her breathing slowed and a peace entered the room, and her faced relaxed.  I was aware that all eyes were on me but I didn’t care about being embarrassed, I cared about my friend’s comfort…her soul.  I sang the song 2 times and by the end of it she was gone…

It was one of the hardest, saddest and most incredible days of my life.  My daughter and I sang that song at her funeral because her husband requested we do so. It was a privilege to honor her in that way.  I tell you all this because I have been thinking a lot about her lately. I miss her and I honestly miss working at a job that allows me to connect deeply to a person and their circumstance.

How does your job allow you to connect to another human being?  Are you using your talents to make another person more comfortable? What is your story of human connection?

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