By Peggy Lynn Wagner, MSN, FNP-BC, CCRN
When I first met Jen, she was living in a car with her boyfriend and she was pregnant and scared. Years ago, Jen had lost custody of her other three children when crack had taken over her life. Faced with a destitute future, she took an overdose of antidepressants during the 10th week of her current pregnancy. We talked; she cried. We were able to connect. I became her NP for the rest of the pregnancy.
The pregnancy was not perfect and neither was Jen. Still, it was amazing to see how she gradually gained back the will to live, ditched the boyfriend, gave up the drugs, stopped drinking and even quit smoking. She had another chance at life, at having a family. Her parents took her in again. She started to go to church with them and reconnected with old friends. There were rough times, but gradually the good outweighed the bad for Jen and she brought her baby girl to term.
My schedule was full, so she was seen by another practitioner for her postpartum visit. She waited patiently until I was free and asked that I come to the waiting room. She wanted to show me her baby. Jen’s hair was clean, combed and shone with light. Her eyes were bright and she wore a flowing white dress. In her arms was her new joy, the little person who had given her the courage to turn her life around. She proudly gave me her little one to hold.
Jen spoke of how she had regained permission to see her older children on a limited basis and how she wished to go back to school. It was a precious moment. We embraced, and she was gone. In my mind I can still see her smiling, cradling her child and at peace. To me, she looked like an angel.
I saw Jen once more during my time in office practice. She told me about how her new boyfriend was going to pay for breast augmentation. Her mother primarily cared for the baby now. I was afraid for her, afraid of the path she was choosing. Jen was well aware of community resources that would be willing to help, but she chose to walk away.
Many years later, while working in acute care, I was called to the general floor to assist with a difficult IV start. When I saw Jen’s name, my heart jumped. She was lying in the hospital bed, thin and feverish. She recognized me immediately and we hugged. I tried to start her IV with no success, but it did not matter to Jen. Her words spilled out of her as if they were rolling down a hill, telling me everything that had happened in the past 12 years. “My daughter is beautiful and smart, Peggy; already in junior high. I am so proud of her.”
She related how she hoped to bring her young daughter to live with her and her new boyfriend when she was able to “get the place ready.” For now, Jen’s parents had custody of the baby I had once held. When I left, we embraced as if we were holding our breaths. A tear trickled down her cheek as she told me how glad she was to see me again, for I had believed in her. “I do believe in you. I love you Jen,” I said.
As I left her, unkempt, diaphoretic, frail and worn by the difficulties of her life, I knew no one else believed in the patient who had abscesses and sepsis and was in B366. But I did. To me, she looked like an angel.
I am continually amazed by the strength of the human spirit. Although Jen did not change her life for her own well-being, when she was pregnant, she found it within herself to come clean for her baby. I have seen this happen time and again. As nurses, we never know when we may impact our patients or when they will affect us. Certainly Jen had family who still cared, social workers and her parole officer to lean on. Yet somehow I was blessed by a connection with her and her beautiful and unforgettable spirit.
Peggy Lynn Wagner, MSN, FNP-BC, CCRN, is an assistant professor, Saint Anthony College of Nursing, Rockford, Ill. She was a nurse practitioner and flight nurse with REACT at Rockford Health System, where she met “Jen.”
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