81: Jane Doe

81: Jane Doe

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Jane Doe

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

~William James

Jane Doe was a sixty-year-old woman found unconscious outside a gas station and brought by EMS to our level one trauma center in Philadelphia. Her total down time was well over thirty minutes before she finally arrived at the ICU, where I was assigned as her primary nurse. She had already been intubated, was on three vasopressors, and about to begin emergent dialysis treatment. They had aborted the hypothermic protocol due to her instability and poor prognosis.

The next morning I returned to learn Jane had lost brainstem reflexes overnight, and doctors were beginning the brain death protocol. At that moment I realized I was all Jane had at the end of her life. No one knew who she was or where she was from. As she lay in the hospital bed dying, I began to wonder, was Jane a mother, a sibling, a spouse, or a grandmother to someone who was out searching and praying for her safe return home? Would they be reunited before she passed away?

I made it my goal to reunite Jane with her loved ones. She didn’t have much time on earth, so I had to keep her alive until her family could be located. I sorted through her belongings to see if I could piece together the puzzle of who Jane actually was. An unopened Pepsi bottle and pack of cigarettes with a receipt from the gas station was all I found in her possession. I went back out to the nurse’s station and called the phone number on the receipt, thinking maybe she frequented there and they might know her name. The number was out of order.

It was a Saturday morning and I knew there was probably only one social worker on call, but Jane deserved this effort so I had to try. When the social worker returned my call, he told me his colleague handled the unknown identity patients and would be back in on Monday. He said he was already busy handling all of the discharges for the day.

I pleaded with him. “You have to help me solve this mystery. This woman most likely won’t be alive on Monday.” I began to cry. “It is both of our professional responsibilities to help patients and their loved ones in their greatest time of need and vulnerability. And this is one of those times. The discharges can wait.”

“I will help you,” he offered. “I’ll contact the Philadelphia Police Department and arrange for them to come and fingerprint her.”

By noon, a police officer walked onto the unit looking for me. After explaining Jane’s condition, he promised he would try his best. He even said he would go out into the community and knock on doors to see if anyone could help in our investigation. His shift was over at 3:00 p.m., and if he did not have any luck he would pass it on to the next officer on duty.

As he left, Jane’s blood pressure began to drop and there was nothing else medically we could do to help her. Her time was running out.

It was only an hour later when the officer returned with her identity. He had knocked on a door down the street from the gas station. Someone there was able to identify Jane based on his description. It turned out Jane was indeed important to many. She was a single mother of four, an older sister, and a grandmother to six beautiful children.

The doctors contacted the family, who quickly came to be by her side. They surrounded her bed and prayed, and she passed away minutes later.

Jane must have been waiting for them to find her before she put her feet on heaven’s stairway.

~Amanda Conley

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