As a part of the 50th anniversary of the BYU College of Nursing, a book was compiled called “The Healer’s Art: 50 stories for 50 years.” It has been 15 years since this book was first published and these stories were shared. We plan to regularly post selections from this book to help each of us remember and cherish the experiences of nursing and learning the Healer’s art.
Moments that Matter
by Timothy Bartell (BS ’02)
As a new nurse, I started working in a long term care center, which can be very challenging. Often times I would start working the minute I got there and continue working the eight-hour shift until the end, without any breaks. Patient numbers were always high. Most of the time I had twenty to fifty patients at a time. This left very little time for the individual patient care and attention many of these residents needed. There is one particular resident who has stood out as I have considered this. I will call her Ruth.
During the later part of Ruth’s life, she had several battles with cancer. Until the last few months of her life, she had won those battles. Finally, the cancer-fighting drugs seemed to work no longer. She lost an unbelievable amount of weight as the cancer started to spread. She also lost nearly all of her ability to function. Eventually, all of her ADLs (activities of daily living) were done by nurses and CNAs.
Her physical condition made it very uncomfortable for her to remain in the same position for extended periods of time. She would ask for help with positioning each time someone entered the room. Many of the facility staff became very impatient with her, especially when she requested help only minutes after receiving it. Often CNAs complained about having to work with Ruth because of her constant requests for attention.
I felt a lot of compassion for Ruth since I lost a close relative to cancer. As I watched the effects of cancer in Ruth, I remembered the discomfort my relative had gone through. I decided that whenever possible, I would take the time to help Ruth reposition and get more comfortable. Each time I would do so, she would take my hand and offer a sincere, heartfelt thank you. At the time I did not consider the significance of those expressions of gratitude.
Her husband died many years earlier, leaving her with two young sons to raise on her own. She worked hard to raise and provide for her children. She remained spiritually strong all of her life and taught her sons to follow her example. Now, this strong, independent woman was not able to do anything for herself. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have been active and independent all of my life and now unable to do anything for myself. I tried to imagine the frustration she must have felt because of her helplessness.
In her final days, she was hardly able to swallow. We struggled to get her to eat or drink anything. Her doctor stopped her regular medications and ordered medication only for comfort measures.
The night before she died was very busy. I went to her room and tried to help her drink a small amount of supplement. I worked with her for a few minutes and then repositioned her. Just as I was about to leave she took my hand and kissed it, looked into my eyes and offered the most sincere thank you I have ever heard in my life. I bent down and told her what a great person she was and that she had led a great life. Somehow I knew that this would be the last time I would see Ruth alive, and I believe she knew it too.
There were never any heroics in my actions. In the end, it was a little bit of extra time that mattered. Though I often spent only moments with her, those moments not only increased her comfort but showed her that someone cared. Let us, as nurses, never forget that it is often effort outside what is “expected” that matters to our patients.