43: Coping

43: Coping

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses


He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.

~Clarence Budington Kelland

My father’s bed was at the foot of my own. I would lie there and listen as his breaths became longer and shallower. I held my breath as I waited for him to take his next.

I’d taken a leave of absence from work to be his primarily care-giver, along with my brother and mom. Dad’s esophageal cancer had metastasized throughout his entire body and we vowed to make him comfortable with home hospice care.

Eventually I had to go back to work after my leave. Within the first hour I was back on the job, my dad passed away. Mom and Grandmother told me he had used his last bit of strength to hold on, so as not to die in front of me.

Caring for Dad changed me forever. I decided to become a registered nurse.

Years later, at the start of my shift, I walked into a patient’s room to introduce myself, as I always do. Mr. Jones was in his late sixties, sick with cancer and admitted due to shortness of breath.

Just like Dad.

When I asked how he was doing he said, “Just fine,” though he was obviously in discomfort and his respirations labored. Between each breath, he answered my questions with a smile on his face, which looked as if it took all the strength he could muster.

Just like Dad.

After a few moments of our conversation, all I could see was my dad when Mom and I had taken him to the emergency room because of his extreme pain. Dad had joked with the admitting nurse and laughed, although he could barely walk three feet without gasping.

Now Mr. Jones was gasping. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’ll be back soon, but first I want to check on your medications.”

But what I really meant was that I had to find a quiet place to hide and try not to cry.

Since my father’s passing, I hadn’t been in a situation that had brought on the same emotions I’d had caring for him. Being the manly man that I was, I couldn’t let people see me near tears. I wanted to take a long break. Or switch patients. But I didn’t do either.

I found an unoccupied room, took deep breaths, and wiped my eyes. I couldn’t allow my emotions to stop me from caring for a patient in need. I thought back to my dad’s laughter during his last days and how strong he was, never uttering one word of complaint. Visualizing his smile, his positivity, and his strength fortified mine. I thought of all those nurses at the hospital and hospice who had cared for my dad and family, and I tapped into their strength.

I took a few more deep breaths, squared my shoulders, and reentered Mr. Jones’s room. I gave him the best care possible that day, and the next… and the next.

A few months after he was discharged, my nursing unit received a card from him and his family saying how they appreciated the care given him. And his cancer was in remission!

As I read the card, I recalled the day when my own tumult had interrupted his care, and was reminded again how we nurses often have to help patients and families cope with difficult situations and emotions while finding ways to cope with our own.

In those situations I continue to perform my duties and care for my patients with a smile on my face, with all the strength I can muster.

Just like Dad.

~Alioune Kotey

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