“I’m sorry to inform you that your father has had a massive hemorrhagic stroke. His prognosis is very poor.” I was at work that day twenty-one years ago, summoned to the nurses’ station for a phone call in the middle of a chaotic shift. With the sounds of call bells buzzing, telemetry alarms beeping, and my fellow nurses rushing to their patients’ rooms, I gave the physician consent for a DNR order and chose goals of care for my Dad. I was taking care of five patients that day, three of whom were recovering from major surgery, and carried on to ensure they received safe care until the oncoming nurse could relieve me.
Dad had been a patient at a rural long-term facility in Northwest Louisiana, hours from where I live in New Orleans. When I left work to pick up my three-year old son, my Mom was already on her way from Alabama to my home; she didn’t want me driving by myself knowing that my Dad was dying. I made two phone calls to Dad’s nurse along the way… checking on his status, his vital signs, the medications he was receiving. The information she gave me during the second call let me know there wasn’t much time left, and I asked her, “Will you please tell him I love him? I may not get that chance.” Her beautiful response was “I sure will, sweetheart. I’m going in his room right now.” Knowing, truly knowing, that a nurse, a lady I’d never met but a nurse, would be with him in his final moments when I couldn’t brought immeasurable comfort and peace.
It was only by God’s Divine timing that I was able to be with my father one last time. I entered Dad’s hospital room and saw how very well he had been cared for… he was in a comfortable position, clean, had oxygen on, was being monitored, and was receiving IV medications to alleviate any distress. His nurse greeted me and then gave me privacy to say goodbye with the assurance that she was right outside the room if I needed anything. She came to me when the monitors alerted her that Dad was gone. Though I don’t remember her name, I will never forget her sweet face, the way her own eyes filled with tears, and how she hugged me tightly as she said, “I’m so sorry, baby.”
It’s because of Dad’s nurse and all the nurses like her that I’m angered by Senator Walsh’s comments:
“I would submit to you that those (small hospital) nurses probably do get breaks,” Walsh said. “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”
We nurses do put patients first, Senator, whether we work at a “small” rural hospital (the only place for miles patients have to go if they are involved in a major farming accident, have a baby with a 104 degree fever and seizures, or have had a hemorrhagic stroke) OR if we work in a hospital with the capacity for advanced care (like life-saving transplantation.) There is no sitting around and ‘playing cards’ going on.