Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dinner and A Movie

How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these. - George Washington Carver

I was working on a neurological floor and had only been an RN for about a year and a half when I had a patient, I won't soon forget. He had come to the ER 2 days earlier, with a severe headache that would just not go away. The pain was so bad it was causing him to vomit and pain medication was doing little more than taking the edge off. His wife had come to the ER with him, leaving his 3 small children at home with a babysitter.

He was sure they would give him some medication, the headache would go away and he would be home in time to wake his babies up the next morning. Instead he found himself lying in a hospital bed facing his life in a totally new aspect.

When I was assigned as his nurse, he had already had two surgeries. The first to remove a large brain tumor that was found during a scan while in the ER. The second surgery was to place a feeding tube directly in his stomach, now that he had lost his ability to swallow safely.

See, after the scan, this 30 'something year old man and his wife were informed he had what was called a Glioblastoma. Now, I remember alot of things about this man, but I do not remember what grade this tumor was. I do remember how devistated, scared and hopeless he and his wife felt. He had already faced a long major brain surgery to remove this tumor. The surgery had affected his emotions. He was what I call emotionally incontinent. He was unable to control them. He would laugh when it really wasn't appropriate to be laughing, and cry when just at anything, right in the middle of saying a word he would begin crying. He was confused by these runs of emotions. He was afraid. . . . He was frustrated. . . . He was hungry! He was having difficulty swallowing after the surgery and they had placed a feeding tube. So his belly was getting full, but he was not able to eat or drink anything, no tasting of his food, no food for pleasure.

The doctors told him his swallow would probably return but it would take speech therapy and several months. He had also been told, he would be expected to live 6 months to a year. This tumor had been removed, well most of it anyway. They were unable to get everything. He would undergo radiation therapy and if he wanted possibly another surgery, but that would not change the outcome. For him, it would only prolong the inevidible.

His wife had gone home to be with their 3 small children for the morning. She was due back later that afternoon. He spent his morning contemplating life. What was he going to do? The realization that he would never see his children grow up was beginning to hit him hard. His mind was racing of the things he had done or not done, to plan for his families future. Would his wife be ok? Would she be able to make it financially with 3 small children? Would she find someone else to fall in love with and be a father to his children, and if she did, was he ok with that?

I had spent some time in his room that morning, refilling his feeding bag, taking his vitals, assessing his incision, listening to his lungs, walking with him to the bathroom, and just talking. He was disappointed this particular day, because he had planned a nice date for him and his wife for the following evening. They had a babysitter arranged, he had reservations at a nice resturant and she was going to take her to a movie. The first date they had been able to have since the youngest child was born just less than a year a ago. Now. . . he was here, not able to eat, they were both faced with an uncertain future, and the babysitter was no longer available tomorrow night. His wife, instead had told him she would spend the night at home that night and be with the children, who were beginning to feel the effects of daddy being in the hospital. In his heart he knew it was the right thing for her to do.
I asked him quetions about their date, where he planned to take her, what movie they were going to see. Making small talk and giving him the chance to talk it out. I told him that I was scheduled to work the next day and since he would not be having company, I would share a "dinner date" with him. We talked about what movies he liked and I promised to bring him one.

The next day when I came to work, he was bluer than blue! His wife had not been there most of the day, as she was trying to keep things as normal as possible for their children and she felt she needed to be home with them. No one else had come to visit him that previous evening or morning and he was feeling quiet alone. It was giving him way too much quiet time to sit and think about what was to come. So, during my lunch break, I went into his room with the VCR and TV cart we had on this particular floor. I gave him 3-4 movies and told him to pick one. I asked what his favorite meal was. He told he was really craving a T-bone steak with a baked potato and a nice green salad. That is what he had planned on having on his date with his wife that evening, that was now not going to happen. So, I reached into my pocket, pulled out several Sharpie markers and on his feeding bag, drew a picture of a T-bone steak and baked potato. I put the movie in that he chose and we watched a movie for my entire lunch break.

That day, is one I will never forget. That day my heart was full. That particular day, I learned that as a nurse, giving and receiving are in fact the same. As I was able to give this young man a moment of my time to show that I did care about what he was going through, he was able to give me something as well. He showed me courage through a storm. He made me feel happy that I had become a nurse. He gave me confimation that I was doing exactly what I was called to do. This is what nursing is all about. Not just caring for the body, but also caring for the spirit. His spirt had been broken. That day, both of us were able to end our days with a lifted spirit. No matter what was to come next. . . . it had been a good day.
It was about 8 months later that I saw his obituary in the paper. He didn't make it to the one year mark, he did though make it past 6 months. He lived each of those days loving his wife and children the best he knew how.


  1. Responding to patients this way is reaching a higher call. What an amazing experience! Thanks for helping me grow as well.

  2. This is why dad and I prayed for so many years for you to know your calling in life. We are thankful you have now found it!!! Love you, Mom

  3. You have those "Patch Adams" qualities that people need and most always appreciate. Never let those go. You are one great nurse.

  4. Tanks Mom! I am glad you are reading this. I am also glad that you and Dad have prayed for me all these years, keep it up!!