Reflections

I lost a patient.

It’s not the first time, and no, I didn’t lose her in the sense that she wandered off.

She died.

Without getting into specifics, this patient had a rapid decline, which as a healthcare worker, is not a surprise, but as a family member it is nothing short of devastating. Earlier in the week, she was talking, interacting, alert. I came back to work four days later and she was lethargic, uncommunicative and struggling with each and every breath.

I knew the end was near.

Once you lose your first patient, you never forget it. My first patient death was in a long-term care facility when I worked as a brand new LPN. My patient had family, but as is the case in most long-term care situations, they didn’t come around much. When the end was upon us, she was alone. I did my best to finish up with the rest of my patients and their meds and treatments so I could be with her.

Nobody should die alone.

I sat quietly with her as she struggled to breathe. Each breath more ragged and delayed than the last.

And then she was quiet.

I’ll never forget that moment…..

Fast-forward to this past weekend and there were similarities. Death was imminent. Just weeks prior, my patient was active and living her life. In a short time, she had declined rapidly. The family was rightfully concerned. Illness was confirmed, and doctors gently explained to them that while we don’t always know why this happens, inevitably, it happens.

And it was happening right now.

As my shift progressed, I did my best to keep her comfortable. I noticed that my aide had braided her hair into soft plaits and rolled them gently up into matching buns on each side of her head. My patient looked peaceful. Beautiful. Comfortable. We repositioned her often, suctioning when appropriate.

But we all know that sound. All nurses know that sound.

The death rattle.

The scopolamine patch wasn’t doing a thing, and she sounded awful.

I sat her up a bit, and then it hit me.

I was losing her. No amount of medicine was going to save her.

I found myself sitting out at the nurses’ station charting when a tear stung the corner of my eye. I admit, I pride myself on NOT being emotional in these situations at work, but for some reason, this was different. I still don’t know why. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Nobody else noticed.

I quietly walked into her room.

Eyes closed, she was sleeping. I walked around to one side of her bed.

I sat down.

And I cried. I cried for her gentle passage into death. I cried for her family who was still reeling from the suddenness of it all. I cried for my own experience with death in my family. I cried when I thought about how quickly life changes. In an instant we go from living, laughing, loving to this. I cried when I thought about the fierce and powerful love I share with James, and how quickly all that can be taken from us.

I reached out, smoothed her blankets, adjusted a pillow or two and felt her silky smooth skin. She was warm. She was comfortable. That’s all I wanted.

In the end, she made it through the night and most of the day. She passed peacefully with her family by her side and her husband’s hand in hers.

Please don’t take this life for granted. Please. While I am not a spiritual person by any means, I value life. This life. The one life we have on this planet. You should, too. Kiss your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, or significant other. Hug your kids. Tell people you appreciate them. Tell people you love them. Every day. Be kind. Apologize when necessary. Stop complaining. Make the absolute most of each second you have on this earth. Take delight in the sunrise, the sunset, and every moment in between. I dare say being atheist allows me the luxury of placing the utmost importance on THIS life, rather than worrying about what happens after it’s over. And regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, you should, too.

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