The Immeasurable Fortitude of Mothers

Without exception, I believe there is nothing more indomitable than the love a mother has for her child. And, yet, in hospitals everyday, some mothers must somehow reconcile the impossible heartache of setting their child free. Nurses Announcements Archive Article

The Immeasurable Fortitude of Mothers

After returning from vacation, I was assigned to "Robert", a 24 year-old suffering from septic shock, multi-system organ failure and late-stage muscular dystrophy. He was maxed out on chemical and ventilatory support.

In his room, the wasted young man lay in the center of large specialty bed. His angular contracted body was dwarfed by a puffy blue mattress that appeared to be in process of swallowing him whole.

During his short life, Robert had been hospitalized multiple times. But this would be his last, his body slowly surrendering to a bacterial juggernaut unconcerned with strong wills or the code of human decency.

Alongside the bed sat Robert's mother. She was short, her face drawn. She stood when i introduced myself. A meek smile betrayed none of her accumulated heartache. Her grey eyes hid none of her fatigue.

I asked her about Robert's life and she began to talk about the photos that were taped to the room's bulletin board. In one, a frail red-haired little boy wearing water wings was splashing in a backyard pool. In another, he was in a toboggan, wedged between the knees of an adult. With his mother's eyes, he was staring directly into the camera. A third photo showed him in a wheel chair crookedly holding an ice cream cone, ready to take a lick.

This was Robert's third day in the ICU. But because the bed was large and Robert's mother so small the only physical contact she could manage was stroking his arm.

I left the room in search of the stool we usually keep in the unit. Unable to locate it, I grabbed a heavy box of computer paper and plunked it down at the bedside.

"Would you like to kiss your son"? I asked her.

I pulled Robert over and then helped his mother onto the packed box. With heartbreaking tenderness, she kissed her son's face.

The following day, this mother decided it was time for her son to rest. With him held firmly in her arms, we extubated. The boy passed quietly, finally free from his incarcerating body.

Ive been an ICU for 16 years. I am no longer intimidated by clinical complexities or traumatic injuries. To me, they're just variations on themes which oblige me to perform the technical balancing act until a body, hopefully, regains its footing.

Today, I am motivated and rewarded by the challenges of assessing and interpreting the behavior of loved ones who suddenly find themselves thrust upon life's razored edge.

For me, therein lies the power and privilege of being a nurse.

Laughter, foreign travel, and helping out the underdog. Be may not end up with a thousand friends, but those who run beside you will be true

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The part that got me is you noticing how she wanted/needed to feel that connection one last time with her son and you didn't care what it took to let her have that moment. Bravo to you!

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

I'm having a little trouble responding through the tears in my eyes. What a beautiful and heartbreaking story, and what an awesome nurse! :heartbeat

Really only one thing I can say:


For the OP, and all the parents that have to make that soul-searing call.

----- Dave

Specializes in ICU.

I lost my son 2 1/2 years ago, after an 8 year battle with cancer. You could quickly tell the good nurses from the bad ones. Unfortunately, the ones I remember most are the bad ones. The ones who would never answer his call light, or be rude to me when I would try to ask a question. Please, all of you, try to realize the parents are hurting just as much, if not more, than the patient is. It is very hard to watch your child be sick, and the nurses ignore their needs. One nurse was told to remove "every other staple" five days after a liver resection. She removed them ALL, then put about 200 steri-strips around him. Another nurse did not even realize he was on a dilaudid drip in recovery; she was from another country than the US and could barely understand English. He had a colectomy, and the nurses did not reposition him all night long, the first day of the surgery. Most of the time, he was never assisted with ambulation. I had to work myself to keep paying the medical bills, but would end up having to do a lot of the nursing stuff they were supposed to do. Once he was confused after another abdominal surgery, and pulled out his N/G tube. Instead of helping him, the nurses screamed at him, then put on wrist restraints, but they never re-inserted the N/G tube! I took them off, of course, and sat up with him all night that night after I had worked 3 twelves. Another time, I called and called for help, because he was confused and trying to get into the bathtub. Nobody came. He got in the tub and fell. He was 6 feet, 2 inches, and I am five foot three. I could go on and on, and usually I do not try to bash other nurses, but I guess this touched a nerve and I needed to vent. I really just wanted to say that not every patient is a drug-seeker, or just a PIA~ some really need your help. And so do the parents.

Specializes in LTC, assisted living, med-surg, psych.

((((((applewhite)))))). I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine what strength it must take to keep putting one foot in front of the other after such an ordeal. You are a brave and valiant mother. Bless you.

Specializes in Programming / Strategist for allnurses.


I had a family member go through this. It was heartbreaking.