It was not unlike any other typical day on the busy cardiac unit. All of the staff buzzing around dispensing morning meds, completing their assessments, when I realized a bit of commotion in a room at the end of the hall. Since I seemed to be ahead of the game with my assignment I decided to take a peek and see if they needed any extra help.
As I entered the room it was obvious the patient was in distress, gasping for air with a look of terror in his eyes, a look we as nurses quickly identify. It was apparent the situation was being attended to quite diligently with doctors, nurses and respiratory therapist all on hand. I asked the nurse in charge what I could do to help and quickly ran to get the supplies needed. When I returned, I discretely took my place at the bedside, listening, watching, and learning. I am doing my best to pay close attention to the actions being taken and absorb all that I can under the chaotic circumstances. Yet, I am drawn to the look in this patient’s eyes and feel the need to make my way through the crowd to the head of his bed.
I reached out and gently placed my hand within the patient’s. His skin was like ice, clammy and pale. Beneath the ambu-bag his eyes blinked back the tears. I held his hand tight for a minute offering the few words of comfort I could conjure up. He hasn’t taken his eyes off of me. Then the most courageous and memorable moment of my career began. The then dying patient, struggling to breathe, reached out to me and began stroking the top of my hand. Amongst all the chaos, the noise and fear the patient seemed to be reaching out in an effort to comfort me! It was as if in a time of his greatest need he was finding some comfort in comforting me. It may sound so minute, almost silly to the average person, but this simple demonstration of courage and pure human spirit moved me beyond words.
Within a minute or two the doctor injected the sedation and the patients grip grew limp. He was fast asleep, unconscious for intubation. I held tight to his hand thinking to myself, as if in prayer, “be strong, be brave, we are here with you.” The next thing I knew he was whisked away for emergent cardiac catheterization and the room was once again quite, so very empty. I don’t think I ever even knew that patient’s name, in fact, that was the only encounter I ever had with him but it is one I will never forget.
Yet again, on the short “T” ride back to Somerville that night I begin to replay the day’s events over again in my head. I look beside me and see a woman engrossed in her Wall Street Journal. She looks a little disheveled, even upset. It is less than a week after September 11th and the stock market has felt the effects. The woman writes feverishly in her notebook. She too has, no doubt, had a long hard day.
I am immediately brought back to the room at the end of the hall and that brief moment in time I shared with a stranger. I smile, remembering a very special connection I had made that day. I wanted to share my story with this woman on the "T" to somehow ease her worries but the train stopped and she scurried off.