Bruce and Ethel: Real Spirit Of The Human Being

It seems like I have been a nurse forever but two patients stand out who quietly taught me about the real spirit of the human being in the bed. They changed me in ways I still can’t believe. Nurses Announcements Archive Article

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Bruce and Ethel: Real Spirit Of The Human Being

Many years ago I worked in a CCU, before many of the sophisticated machines, medications, and treatments we now use daily were available. We knew we were progressive because we got our patients out of bed very soon after their MIs. I met Bruce when I worked 3 to 11 pm. He had had a massive heart attack that included both anterior and inferior walls of his heart. I cared for him much of time as he was in cardiogenic shock and needed almost constant B/Ps and sheet changing due to his diaphoresis.

When he got a little better he spent much of his time telling me about his roses. He had retired the previous year and this was his hobby in retirement, growing roses. We had many quiet times when he rested and I spent some of these hours teaching him about post MI recovery.

Three weeks later he was back to the hospital and back in the same bed in CCU. He had an extension of the MI. It was amazing he was still alive. He told me about how his roses were doing. They were growing well and he was anticipating the blooms in a few weeks. He "coded" and "Coded" and "CODED" a third time. Each time we got him back I just knew he was not going to see his roses. His heart was so damaged and we shocked him so many times. On one of my breaks (meaning I left the unit to get supplies), a nurse stopped me. She had heard the pages for the codes and knew they were all for Bruce. She asked me why we kept coding him. Why not just let him go in peace? At that moment I knew I worked in CCU for some special reason. She did not know about Bruce. She only knew the condition of his heart.

I am sure my response to this nurse was not expected. I told her what Bruce had told me. He wanted to live long enough to smell his roses. At the time I did not think of it as the clichE we say so easily, "Take time to smell the roses". Bruce meant he wanted to see HIS roses bloom. Bruce survived this hospitalization but my teaching this time was mostly about his limitations. He smiled and invited me to come and see his roses when they bloomed.

I did stop in to see him and his roses when they bloomed. They were beautiful. Bruce sat in his lawn chair and chatted for a few minutes and then was very tired. I left smiling because he had been able to see his roses bloom. He died 3 weeks later. He died at home. His heart gave out and his wife did not call an ambulance. She and Bruce had talked and both agreed that he had a full life and the fight was about at its end.

The second patient that influenced my life a great deal was Ethel. She had Alzheimer's and sat for hours folding tissues. She was not able to speak and did not seem to know what was happening around her. I was working LTC and not too knowledgeable about Alzheimer's. I knew the basics but I was not an expert. She was moving to another city and the staff packed up her belongings and kept telling her about where she was going. She sat, as usual, folding tissues. Suddenly she picked up a pen and wrote "Thank You" on a tissue and signed her name. All of us were shocked. We had no idea she noticed her surroundings, let alone could write.

I decided then I wanted to learn more about Alzheimer's. Why she could be so passive and yet have so much going on in her brain? I read I studied, I worked with people with Alzheimer's and compared their actions and progression to those people who had other forms of dementia. I attended conferences and took lots of notes. I questioned the speakers. In short, I became an expert. I started to teach others about dementia. I discovered I could help others to make sense of the complexities of the brain. I laugh about that because when I took Anatomy and Physiology the brain was the thing I understood least. Now I am the speaker and the next generations of upcoming experts come to me to ask the questions that will ensure they will be able to care for those folks who develop dementia.

Bruce and Ethel taught me about the human spirit. They reinforced why I became a nurse. In Bruce's case, I learned the importance of putting the patients' reasons for living in their place, always #1. No one else can decide what is important for another. In Ethel's case, she changed my whole focus in nursing. I had taken the job in LTC because it was convenient and worked with my future retirement. I changed to become an expert, a mentor, an educator, and always an advocate for those who suffer from dementia.

I never can take what is easily seen as fact, not after knowing these two special people. One man with a dying heart and one woman with a failing brain have forever changed me.

TopazLover is a retired nurse who now has a second career as an office manager. Her background as a nurse helps daily dealing with a criminal defense lawyer's office. As a widow she has led many grief groups and provides support for those in turmoil.

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