A Mysterious Intervention

A Mysterious Intervention

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

A Mysterious Intervention

Those who learn to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Nancy had a heart for those facing death. As a hospice nurse, she journeyed with them right up to their point of departure and saw glimpses into the unknown that most people never see. Nancy loved her work. “I wouldn’t have any other job,” she said.

That was her sentiment before she encountered David.

A young man, David lay in his hospice bed facing the wall. Angry and frightened, he didn’t speak to the staff or to his wife, Julia. He had undergone painful, radical neck surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, hoping for a chance at life, hoping to continue his good job and happy marriage. But the cancer returned with a vengeance. Disfigured and with no hope left, he felt his feelings were justified.

“How do we deal with this unfortunate man?” Nancy asked. The nursing staff tried many approaches: counseling, medications, conversations, invitations, anything to try and gain his participation in his own care and reduce his suffering. But these interventions all failed. He responded to their efforts with no eye contact, no verbal interaction, and a rigid body position that faced the wall.

Nancy had joined hospice because of the special, caring relationship opportunities it presented. Day after day, she took time with each patient. The philosophy at hospice was clear: “We are all in this together and we will help each other get through it.”

But there was no possibility of such teamwork with David. The palpable gloom in his room made Nancy’s former nursing duties look vastly preferable. She would have welcomed the chance to be overloaded with hospital tasks, or be undone by a complicated baby delivery, or buried in bandages in the burn unit. Even the nursing home patient who called her “nefarious” would be a welcome change from David’s silent despair.

For the first time in her hospice career, Nancy felt eager and relieved to go off duty.

The next day she returned to find that David had lapsed into unconsciousness. Cold and clammy, his color was gray, pulse and respirations very slow. Thinking perhaps he had slipped into a diabeticlike coma, a blood sugar test was taken but found normal. He did not respond to the lancet sticking his finger or to Julia calling his name. The nurses were sure the end must be near.

About an hour went by and much to their surprise, he woke up. He seemed dazed but he immediately turned his body position away from the wall and toward the door. Most amazing of all, he smiled and made conversation.

“Where were you this past hour?” Julia asked. “You seemed so far away. What happened?”

Very calmly, he replied, “I have been somewhere else.” Then with a peaceful expression, he refused to say any more about it. He spent the rest of the day quietly talking with his wife and interacting with the hospice staff.

That evening, Nancy answered his light and assisted him to the bathroom. “I appreciate your help,” he said. “Thank you for everything.”

“You are most welcome. How is your pain tonight?” she asked.

“I don’t have pain anymore,” he responded, then he talked calmly and openly about the reality of his condition.

He walked comfortably beside Nancy back to his bed. She felt he would have a good night’s sleep.

A little later, the nurse at his bedside called Nancy in. “He’s dead.”

Surprised, Nancy looked at him. He did not appear dead. Further investigation confirmed, however, that he was without vital signs. The most unusual thing she noticed was the beautiful smile on his calm, peaceful face. While observing him, Nancy felt peace and quietness come over her.

She reflected that David’s death was not at all like that of the “nefarious” man who had died like he lived, with a curse on his lips and a contorted expression on his face. David’s death was more like the majority of her patients who, in their last moments, saw beautiful gardens, long-dead relatives, white light, angel-like beings, a long passageway with someone at the end. Others heard conversations, music, or someone inviting them to “Come.” Others talked about going home or to work, or having to do something, or get something straight.

Nancy and Julia agreed that David in his suffering had experienced a mysterious intervention. He had been taken somewhere and seen something wonderful.

“And best of all,” added Nancy, “he came back to show us that he was all right and no longer afraid.”

Through her tears, Julia took Nancy’s hand and squeezed it. “Thank you.”

Nancy’s heart spilled over.

What she received from patients nearing death, she gave to others facing life.

Margaret Lang with Nancy Madson

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