A Patient with a Grateful Heart
By Joyce Barnes, R.N.
In 29 years as a bedside nurse, I've never experienced a patient like the one I took care of often last summer. To me he will always be the patient with a grateful heart.
This patient was on our unit for 17 days with multiple comorbidities. He had a long health history. He had battled alcoholism, was a smoker, had chronic pancreatitis, advanced cirrhosis, diabetes and had required several heart procedures.
Through all of these conditions, anyone of which could shorten his life, he remained upbeat and reflective. He understood the path he had taken personally was now bringing him to the end of life.
As I changed his dressings each day, he would tell me stories about his experiences as a medic in the Army, how he took the wrong path in his life with his alcoholism, smoking and not taking care of his body, which led to destroying his marriage with his wife. Over the years, his wife forgave him and they remained friends. At the end, his wife was still there for him.
One day the patient asked me how I handled the stress of working as a full-time nurse. I told him I pray every day, asking our Lord to put the Armor of God over me, shining His healing, loving protecting light upon me. He liked the vision of a compassionate force watching over all of us. The next day when I took care of him, the first thing he told me was "Joyce, I prayed last night for the Armor of God for shining His healing, loving, protecting light over me."
I was touched and said, "How cool is that?"
The day came when he asked about his Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) status. He said he was at peace, had made amends with everyone in his life and told them he loved them. He had prayed for forgiveness. He said he was ready go.
The arrangements were made for a palliative care and hospice consult depending on the patient’s wishes. Pastoral care was called and came up to the bedside and prayed with the patient and his wife by his side. The patient requested a priest be called and come see him for anointing of the sick. The patient was a non-practicing Catholic.
The patient had a DNR written. It was decided the patient would go the hospice route with comfort measures ordered. His wife was involved providing comfort. A few days after this patient made the decisions about his wishes, he passed away on July 3rd 2021 at 4:20 a.m. This patient died peacefully with his ex-wife at his side.
Even when the eventual outcome became clear, he was so pleasant and cooperative to care for most of the time. He would stay positive, even when there were setbacks. His attitude touched my heart. He would tell me how wonderful the care he was getting and would thank the staff all the time, whether it was therapists, nurses, doctors, patient care techs, social workers or housekeeping staff. He put a smile on our faces, making our day better no matter how busy we were.
I will forever remember this patient, who even in his final days of life, showed his grateful heart.