The terminally ill patient called in nurse Harlette de Leon with a simple last request: "I'm going to die today. Can I hug you?"
Hug him she did -- until he died upon her shoulder.
"I was crying," recalled de Leon, a charge nurse at the Sherman Oaks Hospital Transitional Care Unit, which cares for dying patients. "I put him back to bed. I put a blanket over him.
"I went into the bathroom and shed my tears."
Terri Schiavo's death Thursday has called attention to the nurses and volunteers who must care for the dying, deal with death and reach out to tearful families.
For terminally ill patients, it's the tough but often rewarding role of attending to the fear, anger and suffering that often come before death.
For patients on life support, it's a thankless routine of bathing, bedpans, body turning -- and the need to touch and talk to those who cannot answer back. And in addition to dying or comatose patients, family members in need of loving care are legion.
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