This was first published on January 29, 2012.
When you have been a nurse as long as I have there are patients who take residence in your memories and resurface frequently. They could almost be family except they have a short history in your life. What they were like before or after you knew them usually remains a mystery.
Mr. G was a cantankerous, legally blind, brittle diabetic I had taken care of in the late 80’s. His house was the worst on the block: paint peeling off the frame, rickety wooden stairs and overgrown weeds. Thankfully he lived close to the police station because I had to drive there one day when Mr. G didn’t answer the door. He was convulsing on the floor as I peered through the window. I had to beg the police to break down the basement door to enter because Mr. G often complained to me how many times they had axed into the front door and how expensive it was to repair. He frequently had hypoglycemic reactions.
Mr. G. gave himself insulin injections using low vision equipment to measure out the dose. His much younger wife worked full time, leaving him lunch, usually a sandwich, piece of fruit and a drink on the dining room table. He had confided in me that he thought she was having an affair with her boss. Having an active imagination (I’m a writer aren’t I?), I wondered if his wife was trying to kill him. Maybe the house, inside and out, was in deliberate disarray leading to a potential life-threatening accident. I don’t remember the other scenarios I entertained as I drove to and from his home.
When I left my job to move to another state, my friend, co-worker and fellow nurse practitioner, Jane Van De Velde, took over his care. He died on her watch. She recently emailed me with remembrances about him.
“But I really remember his memorial service. It was so touching, all the people who attended and spoke so highly of him. I was literally brought to tears. I got up and spoke about how wonderful it was to see another side of someone–the strong, healthy, community-involved and well-respected side. We saw him at end of life when he was so very ill and depressed and visually impaired.”
Jane adds, “There are some patients we never forget.”
I remember an elderly woman in the ICU with a B/P of 30/0 who sat straight up and spoke to her dead sister moments before expiring. That sent shivers up my spine!
I would have shivers up my spine too! Don’t you think many nurses have such experiences caring for the dying?
Oh yes, a most unforgettable patient. I still occasionally drive past his home. Thanks for sharing this story again.
Hi Jane, I thought it was time to revisit our mutual patient. I still think of him after all these years.
Thanks for sharing this vivid memory of one of your patients – and for the reference to his formerly vibrant and involved life. Wouldn’t we all like to be remembered like this – both our active, healthy life and our dying days? It’s all part of our story. Thanks, Marianna
You’re welcome, Betsy.
I do believe all of us live complicated, multilayered lives. As nurses we rarely see the full history of our patients.