33: Acceptable Gifts

33: Acceptable Gifts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Acceptable Gifts

The greatest gift in life is to be remembered.

~Ken Venturi

One of my home care patients slipped a local restaurant gift card worth $25 into my hand. She told me how grateful she was for my unhurried, careful teaching of self-care for her colostomy. I gently told her, “Thank you so much, but I can’t accept gifts.”

She protested. “But you took such good care of me, always so patient, repeating everything over and over. I really want you to have it.”

Trying not to offend her, I patiently explained that I appreciated the thought, but I was not allowed to accept presents. I was only doing my job. I went on to say, “You have already given me a gift: the gift of courage. Watching you accept your cancer diagnosis, undergo weeks of radiation therapy, then have difficult colostomy surgery, shows me that I can have the courage to stand up to whatever life throws at me.”

That incident got me thinking. How many other gifts have my patients given me over the years?

James demonstrated the gift of devotion. He lovingly took care of his wife for several years as her health steadily declined from the ravages of ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease. He learned to bathe, dress, toilet, feed her through a gastrostomy tube, check her blood-sugar levels, and administer her insulin injections. He took over all of the responsibilities of running the household. Their house was always clean and neat, much neater than mine, I have to admit. Well-meaning friends and neighbors encouraged him to place her in a nursing home where she could receive round-the-clock care from multiple caregivers, but he always declined. His devotion to his wife showed me what “for better or for worse” really meant. I came home more appreciative of my husband and his efforts to help with the children and housework after his long day at work.

Will taught me the gift of generosity. He was a community leader, well respected by all who knew him. He lived very modestly although his income was more than adequate. I discovered later that he had given much of his hard-earned money to the local soup kitchen, had established an assisted living facility, and was always there to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it, all anonymously. Will was a shining example of generosity and altruism.

Brian exemplified the gift of humor. He was my hospice patient, and thus well aware he was dying. At the start of every home visit, he told me a joke, showed me a cartoon, or related a funny story. The louder I laughed, the happier he was. Then I could proceed with the more uncomfortable but necessary treatments I needed to perform. Brian made me realize that humor can be a valuable tool to ease the tension of unpleasant situations. Following Brian’s lead, I compiled a file of jokes and cartoons to use with other patients. I thought of Brian every time I dipped into that well-used file of jocularity.

Lauren showed me the gift of dignity. Although she was dying from a prolonged and debilitating terminal illness, she insisted on wearing clean underwear, slips, and stockings every day. She would ambulate painfully over to the sink to hand-wash those “unmentionables” daily. She felt it was undignified if she wasn’t fully dressed, with make-up carefully applied, for every visitor that walked through the door, whether it was a neighbor or healthcare provider.

Sue taught me the gift of humility. She was a retired nurse in her late sixties, and I was only in my early thirties. Frankly, at that point in my career I was overconfident. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about health issues and providing expert health care. My goal of home care was to teach Sue how to manage her new ileostomy. Although her skin was moist and reddened, I showed her the usual way to prepare the skin and apply the adhesive ileostomy appliance. I told her it should last at least until my next scheduled visit three days later. I was disappointed to receive a phone call an hour later that the bag was leaking, necessitating another home visit. We repeated the procedure, and I left to go to my next patient. Less than an hour later, I was called back to Sue’s home to replace the leaking bag for a third time. I really was stumped. Sue phoned her daughter, a nursing assistant in a convalescent home, to help us out. Her daughter immediately understood the problem and employed a trick she’d learned: she used a hair dryer to gently dry the skin before applying the bag. Success! I was grateful and very humbled.

The gifts my patients gave me were more valuable, personally and professionally, than any gift card could be.

~Alice Facente

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