Monday, May 24, 2010

My Dad's Nurse

For a few minutes in Be the Change presentations I talk about the morning my Dad passed away. I have a couple vivid memories of him that day, one of which involves a nurse who was caring for him and the powerful way she impacted me.

Now if you knew my Dad personally you won’t be surprised to hear that when I entered
his room at Abbott Northwestern Hospital the morning of his heart surgery he said to me, “You again?” He had a somewhat gruff but honest way of letting you know what he thought. If you could disregard some of his words and instead observe his actions, he was very kind and tender. The words this simple, hard working farmer spoke were typically opposite of what he really meant deep down. Most of the time he could more accurately demonstrate his love in actions rather than words.

I had been to the hospital visiting my Dad just the day before his surgery with my husband and two children. We spent a wonderful Sunday afternoon with my Dad. It was filled with the usual teasing by a Grandpa who loved to do that and the giggling of grandchildren who loved it even more without even so much as a glimpse of what lied ahead. That memorable Sunday afternoon turned out to be the last one we would share with him.

My Dad starting have chest pain while shoveling snow a few days prior, disregarding the strict instructions we gave him not to shovel the driveway at his age. Believe it or not, he drove himself to the emergency room and there they confirmed he did have a small heart attack. He was transferred to Abbott and it was decided that a surgical procedure was necessary. The morning of my Dad's surgery as my brother and I were getting close to his room we could hear Dad's loud voice, infectious laugh and the sounds of a nurse laughing along with him echoing in the halls. As we entered his room I walked over to his bed giving him a kiss on the forehead, disregarding his “you again” comment. I couldn't resist firing back with my own quick comment of “Well I love you too Dad”.

The nurse and I started a conversation while my brother and Dad were catching up. She told me that they were laughing about Dad’s socks and that he wanted them left on during surgery because he was always cold. Apparently my Dad had been teasing her about her growing stomach since she was expecting a baby and that he was wondering if she also had trouble putting on her socks like he did because his stomach looked like hers. She also shared with me that earlier Dad had been telling her all about his eight children and that he had seen all of them in the last few days except one, my brother who just arrived with me because he was on vacation the week before. She told me how much she enjoyed my Dad and the time they had together this morning. There was such a peaceful calm which oddly seemed to usher in the unexpected heart break. Then it began, almost in slow motion. My Dad stopped talking and stared blankly ahead. Despite my pleas, he didn’t answer instantly catching the attention of his nurse. As she searched for a pulse she pressed the call button announcing, “Code blue stat, code blue stat”. A swarm of nurses and doctors promptly emerged focused and ready to do what they were trained to do. Heroic efforts were made to save him by the best cardiology team Abbott had to offer, but still my Dad died that morning following a massive heart attack.

To this day, over thirteen years later, I can still faintly hear the sounds of the laughter coming from my Dad’s room that morning. I can still remember the sense of peace all of us had right before my Dad slipped away. The nurse who nurtured the human experience while providing good quality nursing care to my Dad gave us a treasured gift that day. The peaceful memories of that morning embraced me as I grieved, giving me comfort. Those memories helped me cope with not just the reality of suddenly losing my Dad but also the flooding memories of my Mom’s death years prior to that which came rushing in at the same time.

I point out in my Be the Change presentations that you never know when or how you are influencing someone’s life by the decisions and choices you make. As a nurse you never know when you will have that same opportunity to humanize medicine and make a powerful, lasting impact on a patient’s family. At the end of my presentation I say, “One nurse leads by example, affecting others”. A statement I truly believe and has been demonstrated to me many times.

Every nurse has the ability to make a difference; to be the change. Will you be the one who offers life long comfort to a young woman and her family by the choices you make and the relationship you develop even if it is for only one morning filled with both laughter and tears?

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