Small Gifts

  1. 20

    Over the years patients and families have given me many small gifts, something that I never anticipated when I became a nurse, and certainly not something that I was prepared for. At first it made me very uncomfortable, but understanding the message behind the gifts has helped me to see it in a different light.

    Over the years I have received a lot of gifts from patients and their families. Nurses are not really supposed to accept gifts, and I would never accept money of course, or anything valuable. But when you work with the elderly and the dying, you realize that the gifts patients give us are a way of showing gratitude for seeing them not as a diagnosis, but as a person. They are a way of saying “Please remember me”. When you see it that way, that these small tokens have a much deeper meaning than just a thank you for giving good care, then how can you refuse them?

    I remember each patient, and I treasure my memories of them and the little gifts that they gave me more than I can say. I could never let them go, these items that add to my dusting and take from my storage space. I keep them just as I keep old photographs from high school and my ancient nursing cap. Though some of these gifts are over thirty years old now, when I touch them it seems like just yesterday that they were given to me. My amazing patients, I can still see their smiles, recall their struggles, and remember getting to know them as they let me into their worlds.

    The tiny crocheted Christmas wreath was given to me by a patient’s wife. He was in the hospital, dying of a brain tumor that Christmas. He spent his last holiday with us, there in that bed. We sang carols to the patients on Christmas Eve, but he was too sick to enjoy it very much. We sang anyway, to give hope to those who most needed it. I think we sang for ourselves as much as for them.

    Back in those days we had a tree decorated on each unit, and a hospital-wide contest for who had the best tree. Funny how you remember little details like that. Now they are considered a fire hazard and the decorations are minimal. My patient was bedfast and never saw the tree, but at least his wife did. I like to think it made that awful year a little more bearable better for her.

    I always volunteered to work on Christmas then since I had no children yet. I sort of enjoyed it. What better way to celebrate the spirit of the season than though caring for others, maybe bringing a little joy to those who could not be home for the holiday. On holidays, there is closeness between people who are brought together in such circumstances that you don’t see on other days. Hearts open up and you realize how much you need each other, how connected we all are. It is something no one really talks about, but nurses know what I mean.

    Anyway, the wife spent all her time at the hospital, at least as much as she was able to. She sat by his bed, crocheting to pass the time. It was all she could do. She made the little wreaths for us to wear on our uniforms as pins. She tried to have a holiday for his sake, even if it was one spent at a hospital. She brought his favorite foods in, ethnic foods that we heated up in the kitchen whenever he was up to eating them. There was no hospice care then, and he stayed in the hospital until he died, shortly after Christmas.

    I wore my wreath each year for a long time. The pin she had carefully glued on the back finally broke, so I use it as an ornament now on my tree.

    The beaded necklace hangs in my jewelry box alongside my finest silver and gold chains. It was made by a sweet elderly lady who lived alone in a house that was too large for her, and too far away from her family. I had to visit her early each morning to teach her to manage her diabetes. There was no one to help her, and I worried so that she would forget her insulin. Sometimes I would call her when we did not have a visit scheduled just to check on her.

    My patient liked to work with her hands, and she strung the beads in many colors. Mine is made of pink, white, and clear beads, alternating in a pattern. It is both the ugliest and the most beautiful necklace that I own. I love it, though it is not something I would wear. I could never part with it, for to me it is as precious as if it were made of gold.

    I still drive past the house now and then. I remember when she died, how it broke my heart. But as long as I live she will never be forgotten. Each day when I look in my jewelry box I see those beads.

    In my curio is a shepherd girl statue, hand painted by another woman who loved to do ceramics. I was the hospice nurse for her husband. His illness was swift and painful, and it seemed every time we found a solution for one problem another cropped up. He was one of my first hospice patients, and it was for him that I gave up may own bad smoking habit. I did not want him to have to smell the cigarette smoke on me.

    His wife held up amazingly well in spite of it all. She never faltered, never crumbled, never gave up. She learned to manage the tubes, the feedings, the dressings, and the meds, and never once complained that it was too much to bear. Her strength came from love, and I will always remember her fierce love for him. What a beautiful thing to witness.

    After he passed away I made a bereavement visit. She told me that she never would have been able to cope without me there for her. She said I got her through it. I’m not so sure about that, for she had amazing courage. All I did was give her the knowledge and the tools for the work that she had to do.

    Beside the shepherd girl is a glass candy dish. It is white with pink roses on the lid. It belonged to a patient who collected all sorts of knick-knacks and glassware. Visiting her home was like being in a china shop. She had spent a lifetime collecting things, and loved to show them off to anyone who would be interested to see and hear about them.

    I saw the candy dish and asked her where she had gotten it. I told her I had one like it that had belonged to my grandmother. I’d often wondered where it came from. She told me to take it; she had no use for it anymore and no daughter to leave it to. I told her no, there must be someone who she would want to leave it to. She said “There is someone. I want to leave it to you because you will love it”. And I do, I still love and will always love this tiny matching mate to my grandmother’s dish.

    A grapevine wreath sits wrapped in paper on a shelf downstairs. Sometimes I put it on the door at Christmas, and though I added a few decorations to it I am still amazed when I see it that someone made such a thing by hand. The man who made it was Italian, and he enjoyed making the wreaths and made many of them for friends and family over the years. When I was his nurse he was preparing to go into a nursing home and would no longer have room for them. He wanted each of the nurses to have one. I love it, and I think of him whenever I put it on the front door.

    I have a hand written poem that a patient shared with me. She had written it about her son when he was a little boy. He was now a grown man, living away with his own family. She knew that I had a son and she thought I would enjoy it. I think she sensed that I had an interest in poetry, and we talked about books and children and what it is like to have an only child. I keep the poem tucked inside a book of my favorite poems. It is a gift of the heart, given from mother to mother, and beautifully written.

    She collected angels, this woman, and I often thought that she was like an angel on earth herself. I could never understand how terrible illness seems to strike even the kindest, most wonderful people, people like her. After she died, the angels disappeared from the windows of her house, and it made me very sad.


    I think one of my favorite gifts was from a man who made toys. My son was little then, and this man loved to hear about him. He reminded me of Santa Clause with his love of toy making.

    He gave me a “Bug House” made from wood and wire screen. It had a door that slid open to access the interior, and you could fill it with leaves and things to furnish a home for any sort of bug. My son and I caught fireflies that summer and put them in the bug house. It brought us both great joy.

    I never got to tell my patient about it. He was hospitalized and died before I could tell him. It saddens me to think of it, but I know he was happy to imagine that the bug house would be enjoyed by a child. It was.

    There have been other things over the years, a painted ceramic Easter egg, a plastic Rosary, a kitchen hand towel. Sometimes there were fresh picked flowers or vegetables from a garden, baked goods- a slice of pie or cake, cards of thanks, hard tack candy, and many, many hugs. Each patient had a story, and our worlds intersected for just a little while, but I like to think that maybe I made a difference to them. All these gifts are equally precious, and I do remember the people who gave them to me.

    To be a nurse is in itself a great gift. We are with people during some of the most difficult times of their lives. Touching people’s lives and being there for them is both a privilege and an honor that fills our souls. Our cups runneth over. We give of ourselves, and therefore we receive, for a gift given from the heart gives twice, once to the recipient, and once to the giver.

    We expect nothing, and want nothing in return for our services, other than a paycheck and to be treated with respect. Gifts are never part of the equation, and if you had told me when I entered nursing that patients would want to give me gifts and that I would one day accept them I never would have believed you. But I don’t regret accepting any of these things, for I know that giving works both ways, and it brought each of these wonderful people some joy to be able to give me a gift. As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “It is in giving that we receive”. Amen.
    Last edit by traumaRUs on Mar 29, '15
    Do you like this Article? Click Like?

  2. Visit nursemarion profile page

    About nursemarion

    Joined: Jun '08; Posts: 931; Likes: 1,225
    from PA , US

    Read My Articles

    10 Comments

  3. by   iluvivt
    I loved this post...your patients now live in your heart that is warmed every time you see or touch the small gift they gave you.
  4. by   EmergencyRN22
    I've been fortunate to be the receiver of small token gifts.

    One is a small, pink and hand twisted "breast ca ribbon" that was given me to a pt I had with terminal ca. During the time I cared for her a spent much time "just talking" with her. She was never married, no kids, and few friends.

    Then i had a woman bring in a small, hand made wooden cross. Her husband had passed in our dept. It came with a lovely, heart felt letter explaining that during his retirement he would keep himself busy making small "nick nacks" - including the small wood cross.

    We've had multiple former pt or family members bring in deserts.

    Even more just writing a sincere letters and cards.
  5. by   nursemarion
    Thanks EmergencyRN22- you gave me an idea. I would love to hear more about the gifts that patients and families have given other nurses! Please feel free to share if you feel comfortable doing so.

    Just as an aside- I cannot leave comments when I open this website in Firefox so if anyone else has that problem try it in Internet Explorer.
  6. by   No Stars In My Eyes
    Well, now I've never said no to quart jars of put-up green beans!

    The funniest one, though, was when I was doing Home Health. One of my patients had received something like 12 (yes, twelve!) fruitcakes as she was in the hospital just around X-mas time. She was complaining about all the space being taken up in the freezer from so many fruitcakes. I laughed and said that my husband would think he'd died and gone to heaven if he had a dozen fruitcakes.

    Don't you know, when I arrived home bearing ​six of those fruitcakes, my husband professed his love for this woman and for me being an HH nurse!
  7. by   sjalv
    "To be a nurse is in itself a great gift. We are with people during some of the most difficult times of their lives. Touching people’s lives and being there for them is both a privilege and an honor that fills our souls. Our cups runneth over. We give of ourselves, and therefore we receive, for a gift given from the heart gives twice, once to the recipient, and once to the giver."

    This is a very poetic and inspiring quote. I would like your permission to use it in a speech during my upcoming pinning ceremony. Thank you for sharing.
  8. by   nursemarion
    sjalv of course you may use it! The best job I ever had was working at a nursing school in the skills lab. Helping students learn and practice skills was an amazing experience. I am so happy and thrilled that you liked something that I wrote!

    Pinning is such an important ceremony. I remember it well. Congratulations on your hard work. Welcome to the world of nursing!
  9. by   CT Pixie
    This is just beautiful. I, too, have many 'tokens of appreciation'.

    My first came from my first job as a CNA at the tender age of 16 in 1985. While all my other friends worked fast food, retail and other 'normal' teenage jobs, I was the one who was thrilled to be a CNA.

    My patient was a sweet little lady who was 101 years old. The stories she told me. I loved sitting with her and just listening to her life stories. She would laugh when I would say something like how different it was from when she was my age to present time. I was heartbroken when I realized she was quickly fading and it wouldn't be long before she passed. After she passed, her daughter (who was 81 or 82 at the time) came to clean out her mothers room and called me over. She handed me an old, tattered and battered book. Her daughter said, my mom asked me to give this to you and to tell you that while there were dozens of years between when she was 16 and you being 16 now, things really aren't that different. I opened it and it was my sweet ladies diary from when she was 16.

    I really didn't want to take it from the daughter..it was her moms diary..the daughter had said that her mom had journaled for years and years and that the daughter had all those journals at home. She was happy to fulfill her moms request and give me that one small slice of her life.

    I cherished that diary..and read if frequently over and over. She was right, there really wasn't much difference between her at 16 and me at 16. I learned a lot reading it. I still have that journal. I fear opening it now due to how badly its aged. But every once in a while, I pull it out, jump on the couch with a steaming cup of tea (my little lady's favorite..I'm a coffee girl) and travel back to 1900 and read about the hopes and dreams of a young 16 year old girl who would grow up to be a wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
  10. by   nursemarion
    Oh I love that! A timeless connection between two sixteen year olds. I started as a CNA at 17 myself! Thank you for sharing!
  11. by   Libby1987
    Thank you for your post. It fills my heart to read kindred experiences.
  12. by   whofan
    I think some of the best gifts, other snacks for the nurses are the stories the patients tell you. I have been lucky enough to be able to spend time listening to some of the most interesting stories told by some of my elderly patients. I had patient who I took care for many shifts and was able to transfer him to a med-surg floor and his granddaughter gave me a super-hero sticker and I wore it on my badge until it faded and peeled off.

close