Oops, I Did It Again: Dottie

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    ..........I went and lost my heart to yet another hospice patient. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson after caring for my old friend in that same room and witnessing her inevitable decline and death, but nope---this one had me from "Hello".

    Her name is Dottie, and she is 85 pounds of trouble dressed in a white satin nightgown and an ancient pair of fuzzy pink slippers. She came to our nursing home in early April for a five-day hospice respite, and for reasons known only to her, liked it so much there that she decided to stay put instead of returning to her own apartment. It's OK---she is quite literally a ray of sunshine---but we're still trying to figure out how a LTC facility could possibly be more appealing than one's own home, especially at a time of life when one needs familiar surroundings the most..........or so we believe.

    In addition to a strong Christian faith, fastidious ways, and a dry wit that keeps us constantly in stitches, Dottie has kidney cancer, which has spread to her lungs and God knows where else. Ever the lady, she coughs bright-red blood into a Kleenex which is folded neatly into fourths for further use; she coughs again, folds again, and finally places the well-used tissue inside a basin which has been lined with plastic bags to facilitate easy disposal of the offending materials.

    She puts her hair in rollers each evening before bed. She has a picture of Jesus on her nightstand and will tell you to move aside if you happen to be standing in between them. She has a stuffed leopard, Tigger, whom she talks to as if he were a real cat.....much to the amusement of well-intentioned social workers who mistake her sense of humor for dementia. And she honestly wonders why God hasn't come to take her home yet---"I was supposed to be dead by the end of March", she will tell you matter-of-factly. We joke about Him taking so long because He's adding on another couple of rooms to her mansion in Heaven, but I suspect it's because in her dying, she is teaching us how to live.

    She tells me I am her favorite nurse. I still think she says that to all of the nurses who care for her---not that she needs much care, she is still VERY independent---but her daughter confirmed it one night last week when things were looking bad for her and we thought she was nearing the end. Then the other night, her college-age granddaughter gave me a huge hug as I was going off duty and said, "Now I know why you're Grandma's favorite!" So to say that I've bonded with these people is probably the understatement of the month; and while I still do my best to remain professional and objective, her passage will be one of the toughest I've ever had to endure. The selfish side of me fervently hopes another nurse will be present at that sad hour; but in my heart of hearts I pray I'll be the one to brush her hair and to wipe her brow for the final time. As someone much wiser than I once said: some people come into our lives and quickly go; others leave their footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.

    I don't know what awaits this good woman, or her family. I don't even know if I'll see her again on this side of the grave---she's in rough shape, and I'm off-duty for several days. But when I stopped by the other night to let Dottie and the family know that I was going to be off until Saturday, she grasped my hand and held on, looked at me with eyes that were suddenly clear of their drug- and pain-induced fog, and said, "I love you. I mean that."

    I knew she did. And I meant it when I said "I love you, too". I don't say that to patients, but I say it to my friends all the time. And that, dear reader, is what I love so much about nursing. In spite of all the ugliness and the brokenness we see, every now and again we get to meet one of God's angels, cleverly disguised as a human being, who becomes more to us than just another patient.

    Dottie is my angel. Who is yours?
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    About VivaLasViejas, ASN, RN Guide

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    RN and blogger extraordinaire; from OR , US
    Specialty: 20 year(s) of experience in LTC, assisted living, geriatrics, psych

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  3. by   heron
    Too numerous to count.

    Sounds like she didn't want to be a burden. Maybe she is worried about having enough help at the end and didn't want her family to be overwhelmed with the physical work of good terminal care.

    Maybe she's just wanting not to be alone.

    One of the things I sometimes stress to the families of my inpatient hospice patients is that we, the staff, are here to do the "ucky" stuff so they can put their energy into being with the one who is dying.

    Go ahead and love her, V. It's gonna hurt when she dies, but it sounds like you have the opportunity to know someone incredible. Personally, I get really attached to the the curmudgeons.

    It's OK to hurt and it's OK to cry ... that's how you know you're human.

    If you don't try to stop the process, eventually the pain changes and you have some wonderful memories.

  4. by   VivaLasViejas
    She has mentioned more than once that she didn't want to be alone. Kind of sad that she had to enter a nursing home full of strangers and engage a host of hospice volunteers in order to not be alone.........her family is small, and they are very busy, but they love her dearly and are there as much as they can be, which is daily. But it's like you said, heron: they get to be there for the good times, and we're there for the yucky stuff.

    Except when this dear old soul grasps your hand and holds on for dear life......and with it, she grabs a significant piece of your heart as well.
  5. by   heron
  6. by   nkara
    She sounds like an amazing woman. And you sound like an amazing nurse. I can't say that I would have feared much better in not getting attached to her. :urck:
  7. by   VickyRN
    I absolutely love this account, Marla. It struck a deep chord. I especially found these words to echo the sentiment in my heart:

    And that, dear reader, is what I love so much about nursing. In spite of all the ugliness and the brokenness we see, every now and again we get to meet one of God's angels, cleverly disguised as a human being, who becomes more to us than just another patient.
    This is why I love the bedside, and why I continue to work part-time as a staff nurse despite having so many other obligations (another full-time job and being in a PhD program). I love that patient interaction... especially with those special "angels among us," like your precious Dottie.
  8. by   MissERN
    Truly it is a blessing to be able to serve others. (Not that I always see it that way...often times I get stressed because I have 100 things to most of them should have been done 4 minutes ago and I forget to see my job as a blessing) In what other jobs do you have the opportunity to REALLY serve others in such a personal way (changing soiled linens with a smile, taking an extra second that you don't have to smile at a frightened pt, getting another warm blanket for one who is shivering). Yes, thank you for reminding me of this verse, "If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, so also ought to wash on another's feet." John 13:14 (Jesus said this to his disciples after washing their feet...feet that had manure and dirt on them from walking in the street in sandals.) This helps me remember to work hard and love others...you know, for some it might be the only love they know.
  9. by   VivaLasViejas
    You said it!! I have a female resident on my unit whose family never visits her, not even on Mother's Day or Christmas, though they live only a few miles away. She lies in her bed, day after day, month after month, year after year........much of the staff is afraid of her because she's grumpy, but for some reason she's let me into her life, and she is actually a very intelligent, politically astute, and FUNNY woman. She used to teach at the local community college years ago and was once a political activist for the McGovern campaign; she hates George Bush with a pink and purple passion, loves pretzels, watches "Jeopardy!", and was the facility's only ICF resident to vote last year (for President Obama).

    Apparently nobody knew that before, but over the months that I've been there, she's come out of that hard shell a bit, and once in a while she even lets up on the CNAs.
    She's a good person, just wish more people knew it!
  10. by   jpena8
    youre blog brought me to tears. i too want to be a hospice nurse for the exact same reasons as you do, it is soo nice to know that there are some nurses out there who are so patient and kind still to even those who are usually overlooked and forgotten in nursing homes by their family or staff. so thank you, really thank you, i inspire to be as good of a nurse as you are.:spin:
  11. by   yetanotheramanda
    oh crap, I wasn't going to read this because I knew it would make me cry. And....it did. Thanks (sincerely, not sarcastically). :heartbeat
  12. by   LovingNurse
    It's obvious that you were called to the right profession. The way you express the love in your heart is a gift to all! Thanks for sharing.
  13. by   mayvst
    Very touching and heart warming experience.. Thank you!
  14. by   TomLM
    My reaction? Goosebumps and tears.
    My mom spent her last two and a half years in nursing homes. She may have liked some aides or nurses more than others, but they were all her favorites. All those wonderful people are a big part of the reason I'm entering nursing school this fall.