85: Privileged Presence

85: Privileged Presence

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Privileged Presence

Therefore, comfort each other and edify one another, just as you are doing.

~1 Thessalonians 5:11

I was a member of the Rapid Response Team. I had just finished rounds and returned to my home unit. I was cruising through the Surgery Intensive Care Unit to check if anyone needed help when I’d noticed the crash cart outside Room 20 and a flurry of activity inside. “Prime the Levophed line and get Bicarb STAT!” I rushed to get the Bicarb when I was nearly run down by a coworker.

“Aren’t you the family-centered care person? This young man’s mom is on the phone, wailing. Please help.”

I asked someone else to get the Bicarb, and I approached the phone feeling very nervous. I had never met this woman and knew little about her son, except that he was twenty years old and was expected to die soon.

I took a deep breath and looked upward, wishing for some Divine intervention. What could I possibly say? I picked up the phone. “Hi, my name is Mary. I am one of the nurses here. I’m answering for Kim because she is with Michael.”

The woman on the other end cried, “The doctor called and said my son is dying right now! I am four hours away. Is this true?”

“I am sorry, yes, he is in big trouble. We are doing our best to keep him alive. I don’t know you and this is awful information to be giving you on the phone. I am so sorry.”

“What am I going to do? This can’t happen! I don’t want him to die without me.”

My heart was racing. Even as a well-seasoned nurse, experienced with many patient death situations, I was numb and at a loss for words. I said, “I am so sorry. We’re doing everything we can. I’ll stay on the phone with you.” Then the Divine intervention I had been praying for came. I remembered that our unit clerks had cordless phones at their desks. I heard myself say, “I am going to take the phone to your son. I’ll put it to his ear and you can talk to him. I will talk with you every few minutes and let you know what we are doing.”

“Okay,” she said.

On my way to the room, I explained that we were giving drugs for his blood pressure and continuing to try everything.

“Can he hear me?” she asked.

“Yes, I believe he can hear everything, even though he can’t respond to you.” I encouraged her to say all she had in her heart and felt was important. “Talk about any unfinished issues or just tell him you love him.”

As the next forty minutes passed, I stayed next to the bed with the phone pressed to her son’s ear. Michael was in full-blown arrest and the code continued furiously around me. Every few minutes I spoke with Mom and updated her on Michael’s heart rate, chest compressions, blood pressure, and drugs given. During this time, his dad called and I put another phone on the other ear, but this only lasted for a few minutes. The dad lived about forty-five minutes away and decided to try and make it to the hospital.

As things became increasingly dismal and it was time to call the code, I told the mother that Michael’s heart rate was now very slow, not really beating right at all, and that this was the end. I put the phone back to his ear as she spoke her final words to her son.

One minute later Michael was asystolic and the code was called. I had been crying for a while already. Brokenhearted, I told her Michael was gone.

Our attending MD took the phone, offered her condolences and answered questions. Kim, Michael’s nurse, also talked with her. I spoke with her one last time.

She sobbed, “Thank you for helping me be with him. You’ll never know what it meant to me….” Her voice broke.

Still feeling helpless and inadequate, I had a tearful decompression with my coworkers. They helped me realize the difference I had made, and understood my bittersweet feelings of privileged presence.

We nurses are given a great gift to provide help and comfort to people in their darkest hours. Privileged indeed.

~Mary Gagnon

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