A Personal Tragedy Made Me See My Profession in a New Light

By | 2022-09-09T10:14:12-04:00 September 9th, 2022|7 Comments

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.

Insook Kim, RN

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.



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About the Author:

Insook Kim, RN, RCIS
Insook Kim, RN, RCIS, worked as a nurse for 40 years and served as an Electrophysiology Lab manager for 15 years at St. Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey. She retired in Nov 2020.


  1. Avatar
    Carol S. September 18, 2022 at 8:45 am - Reply

    Beautiful. I have been on both sides many times with family and myself. Currently dealing with the healthcare machine for myself. It definitely gives you a different perspective. Not a good one either. It helps you to see where all the anger comes from. The unimaginable pain that so many are going though! I hope I have always been a help to those who are dealing with the loss of control that comes with illness. I hope I have made things a little better for them. I am not getting much support from anyone right now and I feel terribly alone. It is horrible. We all do have to face it eventually. I am sorry for your terrible loss. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope we can all keep it ever in our minds, that it could be us and one day it will.

    • Avatar
      Terrey Hatcher September 26, 2022 at 8:48 am - Reply

      We are so so sorry to hear that you are feeling a lack of support right now. Please know that you can connect with other nurses in our Nurse.com community who have empathy and can share resources. Our Nurse.com app will let you connect with others in your area and beyond. Those who provide care need care just as much!

  2. Avatar
    Anna September 18, 2022 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Beautifully written. I think you can’t actually really realize your true potential as a nurse until you have experienced it from the other side as a patient or a family member. For me, it was a revelation to realize how seemingly small gestures (like your tea with lemon) can have a big impact, but also how a thoughtless word or even just one staff member with an impatient attitude can really affect the patient. The dependency upon the caregivers is so complete.

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    Linda Dixon September 18, 2022 at 9:41 pm - Reply

    This was a very sad story and I’m sorry for your loss! But I get the point of how it gave you a new perspective as a nurse!

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    Olusegun M Tanimonu RN BSN September 18, 2022 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    A very touching story. Thank you for the new math of Patient + Family + Nurse = 1. “Three groups with one heart, one mind, and one goal” (Insook, 2020). I promise to carry on with this equation in my Nursing practice.

    Accept my condolences on the passing of your husband and I wish you the very best in your nursing profession.

    Thank you.

  5. Avatar
    Sally Campbell September 19, 2022 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Dear Insook,
    First and foremost, I send my condolences to you and your family. Your sharing your story touched me deeply but also makes me more aware of our impact on the family as well as the patient.
    Thank you.

  6. Avatar
    Bose Ogunrayi RN September 25, 2022 at 12:56 am - Reply

    This is a very touching story, but it teaches us nurses a big lesson of being more compassionate in our daily encounter with our patients and their families, we might find ourselves at the other side of the table one day.

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