Every Saturday, my husband John would prepare for his golf outing. The house filled up with his happy hums as he gathered his clubs and shoes. At the same time, I would be working on project papers and packing them in my briefcase for school. This was our Saturday routine for the past 10 years. But one Saturday was different.
That Saturday, my husband and I sat silently in a room at the hospital. He was on a stretcher waiting to go to the operating room.
“Your husband has kidney cancer that metastasized to the right hip,” said the doctor, who had scheduled him for the emergency surgery the night before. We said goodbye outside the OR.
As I watched him disappear down the long hallway, I felt like I was standing in the pouring rain without an umbrella. When I think about it now, I realize I never asked him how he felt when he left me at that moment.
The surgery went well, but the fight against the cancer cells was still on. Chemo, radiation, more surgery, rehab, hours, days, weeks in the hospital. For 30 years, I had worked in the hospital as a nurse. But until then, I had never felt what it was like to be on the other side.
I always thought that people who were ill were born to live another destiny. But here I was, going down the same path that everyone will inevitably face one day. As a nurse, I talked to patients and their families all the time. But I never realized the importance of connecting deeply with them, until I saw my husband on a patient bed.
One night, the nurse who took care of him noticed that I was in deep distress. She left and returned with a big cup of tea with a lemon wedge for me, and told me to sit down and relax. “He’ll get better,” she reassured me. I still remember her deep, sympathetic eyes.
After we had returned home, the hospital called me with my husband’s blood work results. His glucose level had shot to over 1,000 from the steroids he was on. We rushed back to the emergency room at 3:00 a.m.
After he was admitted, I prepared to leave. (I had to report to work later that morning.) It was dark, and nobody was on the street. I was frightened. As I was about to walk toward the parking lot, Matthew, one of the floor nurses, saw me hesitate. He was on his break and offered to walk me to my car. I still remember his warm smile.
On the day of John’s kidney operation, my children and I sat in the waiting room. There was no giggling or laughing from the kids. We just sat there scared of the unknown. A nurse in blue scrubs came by every so often to update me. I still remember her footsteps as she walked through the OR’s automatic doors. She was my connection to John as he lay on the operating room table.
Sadly, John passed away a few days after the surgery.
When I returned to work a week after my husband passed away, my attitude as a nurse had totally changed. I had a new equation driving my work ethic. 1+1+1 doesn’t equal 3. The real answer is simply – Patient + Family + Nurse = 1. Three groups with one heart, one mind, and one goal.
This was the most painful experience of my life, but I came away with valuable lessons. The final stretch of my nursing career became a golden opportunity to give my very best to patients and their families, because I saw John in every patient I treated. And that is a gift.