How I learned compassion.
My hard lesson learned on the Med/Surg floor.“When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” The parable of the good Samaritan, Luke 10:34
There comes a time in every nurse’s life when they must go against society’s social norms and care for what I call “society’s undesirables.” My definition of society’s undesirables is the homeless, the mentally infirmed, the physically handicapped as well as criminals. In short, the kind of people that every day Americans would consider beneath them. In the course of my short career I have cared for all of the above. One patient had particularly touched my life both personally and professionally. Her name was Reva and she was a convicted felon. She lived for a year after she was paroled in her 17th year of a life sentence for the murder of her infant daughter. Reva came to my unit after being admitted for pyrexia, low white blood cell count and end stage lung cancer. Her emaciated cancer-ridden frame barely even made a dent in the hospital bed when my fellow nurses and I helped her off the gurney. Her husband, a formidable man with an air of arrogance loomed in the doorway as we helped her get settled in.
“Do you know who I am? I am a pastor at the state penitentiary.” He stated, “I’m a man of God. Don’t think you can mess with me because God will punish you for persecuting me.” I looked over at my patient, who by this time had began to clutch her side and gasp softly, “Reva, enough of that, you’re not getting anything for pain. The nurse is here to make sure I’m comfortable. You need to just be quiet.” Calmly I stated “Sir, I’m here to make sure she is taken care of. She is my patient. If you insist on preventing me from caring for her then I will have you escorted out of the hospital by security.” He slammed his massive hand on my shoulder and yanked me closer to him by my scrub shirt. “You better not talk back to me you little heathen, or I will show you how God deals with disobedient women.” I quickly pressed the staff emergency button located on the tracking device that was issued to me at the start of my shift. The sound of thudding sneakers became louder and louder as he threw me into the wall. Three security guards stormed in with our house supervisor and my charge nurse in tow. The charge nurse helped me up as security escorted the screaming husband out of the room.
I dusted myself off and with only minor bruises I continued with my assessment. “You’re the first one to actually stand up to him” Reva said, teary-eyed. Her unkempt appearance and strong body odor as well as bruises in various stages of healing explained everything. “I suppose I deserve it, because of what I had done in my life. I’m just not worth anything to anyone.” Placing my hand in hers I continued to listen to the confessions of a dying woman. “I killed my baby girl. She was just so beautiful. I never imagined anything so beautiful would come from me. After years of hooking, cocaine and heroin, I had been given a gift from heaven, and I destroyed her!” Huge tears rolled down her cheeks as she described to me how in a drug induced stupor she killed her daughter. Hysterically crying she looked at me, “I was afraid I would corrupt her, and sentence her to a life of drugs and prostitution. I am so sorry, I’m so sorry! Forgive me Father, oh sweet Jesus forgive me!” Wiping her tears, I told her that I would care for her, and that I am not here to judge. After medicating her for pain, anxiety and starting her IV fluids, I stroked her hair while she drifted off to sleep.
Later that night she became unresponsive. Searching through her chart I found her DNR orders and living will that stated she only wanted care and comfort measures. I closed her chart and shut myself in the staff bathroom to have a good cry and talk to God on her behalf. “Please dear Lord, forgive this poor woman, who I’m sure that was shown no kindness in her lifetime. Please show her what a loving Father you are. Greet her with open arms, give her peace. Amen.” After washing my face and hands I continued on with the rest of my shift. About 0400 Reva began Cheyne-Stoking. Sitting at her bedside after finishing my rounding I brushed her forehead with the back of my hand. She fixed her eyes on the ceiling and raising her arms up she whispered, “Oh Jesus, Jesus!” Her face softened and she had passed with her lips curved upwards in a slight smile. My prayer had been answered. I called her husband to tell him that she’d passed. “I’m not coming back up there after how you people humiliated me. You just do whatever you have to do with her. I will have your job by the way.” He continued on, “Why don’t you call her scum-bag mother, maybe she will have more sympathy for her.”
Her mother was just as devastated by her death. “Oh she’s finally dead, is she? Send her to Degraff Funeral Home. I will identify her body there. Do you know if it’s expensive to cremate someone?” Disgusted, I hung up the phone. Bryan and I bagged and tagged her and sent her down to the morgue. The rest of the shift continued on without incident. After giving report I made my way down to the cafeteria for a much deserved breakfast and hot cup of tea. I learned that night that no matter what, it is my duty as a nurse to provide holistic, unbiased and professional care to all members of the human race. I’ll save the judgment for God.
Name changedLast edit by Silverdragon102 on Nov 29, '10 : Reason: real name not used
Jessica is the first nurse in her family, and a dedicated knitter. You can find her in the local yarn shop or Barnes & Noble.
Joined: Sep '05; Posts: 803; Likes: 530
Staff NurseNov 30, '10It is not our place to judge our patients. Our job is to give the best care we can. Sometimes it is hard to set aside our prejudices and yes, even disgust, to extend care and compassion. You made a difference to this young woman in the last hours of her short life. I know that she was grateful. You gave her the gift of dignity. God bless you and Reva.Nov 30, '10Thank you for taking care of her. I am so thankful to see that there are still nurses out there that have unbiased compassion for their patients-- lately it has been so hard for me as a nursing student to see some of the nurses that are simply burned out and no longer care because I sometimes wonder if that's how the path of nursing ends, but it's nurses like you that remind me that it doesn't have to be that way. Much appreciated and such a beautiful experience to share.Mar 18, '11i am not in the medical field. i came across this post by chance. yet this story touched me enough to join as a member of this site.
thank you for relating your experience to the general public. it makes a huge difference when one loses faith in humanity to be reminded that some people really do care. true loving care - deep inside their hearts. thank you that you care. it sounds like this lady suffered quite a severe hell on this earth. i can not imagine that a person turns to prostitution because they'd like to do that. it seems like whatever her "wrongs" she probably didn't have a happy(safe? loved?) life from a young age. and while i write this to thank you i say a silent prayer for two people - for her: i am sad that anyone lived such a tortured life. and for you: it could (still is?) not have been easy to be confronted by this situation yet you showed love to another without judgement and that, to me, is what we should all strive toward
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