Anna Moukhina and Alex Ognev were married in 1998 in a simple ceremony in Russia, but Moukhina always dreamed of exchanging wedding vows while wearing a beautiful white gown.
Palliative care nurses at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago helped make that dream come true for Moukhina before she died of cancer.
Moukhina, 32, first visited the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute in March 2009, when she was diagnosed with grade 4 glioblastoma, and was told she had 14 months to live. In addition to having radiation and chemotherapy treatments, she enrolled in a clinical trial, but a month later, the cancer had metastasized to her bones. Moukhina withdrew from the trial, and her condition worsened in the next several months. In mid-December, she was admitted to Northwestern Memorial for palliative care. It was then she spoke of her dream of a white wedding.
In the days leading up to the ceremony, Gail Cari, RN, BA, OCN, who had been one of Moukhinas nurses, noticed a different feeling in the air.Anna Moukhina and Alex Ognev were surrounded on their special day by nurses, physicians and family members.
It was very exciting on our floor, Cari says. Everyone knew a wedding was happening. As sad as the situation was, there was a sense of happiness on the floor. The other patients knew this was happening. They were excited, too. Adding to the excitement was the arrival of several members of Moukhinas family, who were surprised to learn a wedding had been planned.
On the wedding day, in addition to helping decorate Room 1668 it just so happened that the big corner room with a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan had become available the night before the wedding Cari went on a frantic search for white gloves to match Moukhinas gown.
I called everyone from the Disney Store to Neiman Marcus, anything in the area, Cari says, but white gloves did not exist.
Not that it mattered. The bedside ceremony turned out to be perfect.
Moukhina, dressed in a long white gown and a bright red flower pinned behind her ear, spoke of her love for her husband, whom the nurses had come to know for his devotion to his wife throughout her hospital stay. Kelly Harrington, RN, BSN, OCN, who purchased the wedding cake, had been Moukhinas nurse in the days leading up to the wedding.
We would do our nursing tasks, but if there was anything else we had to do, she would be like, No, no, Alex will do that for me, says Harrington, a nurse at Northwestern Memorial since 2007. They had a great love for each other. Toward the end, when she couldnt get out of bed, she would depend on him.
Moukhina also spoke of her appreciation for her neurologist, Sean Grimm, MD, who attended the wedding.
Grimm sat stoically throughout the ceremony until Moukhina called him my hero.
At that moment, Dr. Grimm, his whole head went down, Cari says. Everyone, the whole room, became very tearful. Two days later, on Jan. 1, 2010, Moukhina died. Harrington says she believes the wedding served a valuable purpose.
It was a rewarding experience for [Moukhina], Harrington says. I think it helped everyone come to terms with the situation. They saw her at her worst, but during the ceremony, she was just glowing.
Cari says it also was a good experience for those who work on the floor, a chance for them to see some happiness. Besides, she says, a dying patient needs to have hope.
It was always her wish to get married in a white wedding gown, Cari says. When you have cancer, you dont let go of your dreams.
Tom Clegg is a member of the editorial team at Nursing Spectrum.