I had just started my first RN job on the blood and marrow unit. Early on I realized this unit was tough and many of the patients die, but I knew it was where I was meant to be. This story is about a nurse who is a nurse hero- and the person who inspired me to pursue my doctorate in nursing practice. I met this nurse less than a month after working on the BMT unit. By then I had learned the privilege of administering a stem cell transplant- that meant a new chance at life, and the privilege of helping someone die peacefully.
This nurse was fighting acute leukemia
At first when I walked into her room for day shift she intimidated me. She was nauseated and asking for Ativan, she was strong and demanding and she instantly recognized me as a new graduate nurse. After the first shift with her I relaxed, and she started to teach me lessons. She taught me how to “properly” get the bubbles out of IV lines, and tricks like having her raise her arm to get blood to draw from her central line I would bring her coffee with meds and she would jokingly scold me saying prioritizing my time didn’t include bringing her coffee! I knew she was a nurse from the day I met her, first because she was brilliant and second because as my patient, she was teaching me how to do my job. The other dead giveaway was her love for coffee and how she would teach a class from her mac during chemo.
Some days she was weak
On those weak days her sarcastic wit never diminished, but it was clear she was fighting. She still got up every day and walked laps in the hall. When she found out her cells were not responding to chemo and she relapsed, her first sentence was “okay, what trial can I do?”. She was a fierce fighter and ended up in a trial of CAR-T cells (something brand new at the time). While being her nurse we had conversations of my future and how I had considered going to nurse practitioner school but was not sure this was the right move for me.
When the day came for transplant ...
I was assigned another patient but she requested I be her nurse. The transplant went well, and I was excited what this could mean for her survival. The next day the night nurse told me she was having a reaction- Cytokine release syndrome. This causes a massive inflammatory response and for her-cardiogenic shock, DIC, and multiorgan failure. She looked absolutely miserable and unrecognizable when I went in her room. Over the next 2 days I watched her suffer and tried to keep her pain, fever, and confusion repressed as she transitioned to comfort cares. By the end of my third 12-hour shift she was almost unresponsive, her words meek whispers. I felt helpless. I couldn’t believe how fast this brilliant, witty, spit-fire woman had become too weak to sit up in bed.
Then she whispered ...
At the end of my shift, I held her hand, thanking her for teaching me. Asking her if there was anything I could do to help, she whispered ...
... go get that doctorate because you’ll make a damn good NP one day
I felt the tears well up and told her I would. I applied to the program later that night. I am halfway through my doctorate now and think of her often.
She was one of the greatest hero’s nursing will ever know.