By Vanessa Easterday, MSN, RN
Nursing has been one of the most difficult and challenging, yet fulfilling, ventures of my life. It has been a journey of relationships and experiences. Touching lives when they are lonely, ill, hopeless or dying is a privilege that few other professions offer. Offering compassion to patients during times of personal loss or tragedy has its own rewards, but helping to protect and maintain human dignity is invaluable. One of the most fulfilling and moving experiences of my life came from caring for a quiet, elderly gentleman who had nobody in the world to care for him. I met him in the ED one night after he was rescued from his home. He had been trapped on the floor of his home for weeks before he was rescued.
When I first cared for him, I offered him a meal from the cafeteria, and he smiled and said he would love to have something to eat. He told me that this was the first full meal he had eaten since the passing of his wife four years ago. He explained that he had always eaten his meals with her in the nursing home where she lived. Something occurred that evening that bound us in a friendship that doesn’t happen every day.
The patient was admitted to the hospital and, because he had no family nearby to care for him, he was placed in a local long-term care facility after his hospital stay. I was able to locate and check in on him one day. His experience was haunting to me. He had been so isolated and found in such an undignified situation. He had been removed from his home of nearly 70 years. It was a difficult transition for him to lose his dignity and his independence.
I asked permission to visit him at the long-term care facility from time to time, and he was excited about having company. I visited him for two years.
One day, a nurse friend of mine happened to be working at the facility where my new friend was staying. She called to tell me he would soon be passing and she had found my name and number in the front of his chart listed as “friend.” She recognized my name and wanted him to have someone he knew with him when he passed.
The last trip to visit him was one I will never forget. He asked me to talk to him. “I am tired and it would be comforting for me if you would just talk to me and stay with me,” he explained. He passed quietly shortly after that.
This relationship motivates me to continue to care for those who are in need of a compassionate touch and a listening ear. It also inspires me to teach nursing students about the importance of treating every patient with dignity and compassion. Encounters like this can inspire and renew our passion for our unique profession.
Vanessa Easterday, MSN, RN, is an assistant professor of the Chamberlain College of Nursing Indianapolis Campus.
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