Hospice Visiting Nurse – February, New England, USA
This morning, the thermometer on my deck read a bone-chilling -5 degrees Fahrenheit. I wished I could stay home today, but my patients needed me. I pressed the remote car starter on my key ring to melt the thick ice off my windshield and warm the car. After a quick breakfast, I donned my goose down teal green parka and hood, stepped into my fur lined black boots, and wrapped my warmest scarf around my neck. I grabbed my heavy blue nursing bag and gingerly walked down my slippery sidewalk to my car. After sprinkling rock salt on the pavement in front of the tires to give me traction, I put on my seat belt and asked the Lord for safety. I gently pressed the gas pedal and the car crept forward. I only passed a couple cars on my short drive to the office.
Eight a.m. Good. I made it on time even though it took thirty minutes from when I walked out my front door. I listened to my voicemail messages. “Pam, this is Marcie, Dale’s wife. Please call me when you get in.” Dale was one of my favorite patients who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer six months ago. The handsome fiftyish silver-haired man was at the peak of his career as vice president of an Ivy League University. I enjoyed chatting with him and Marcie about their life and swapping travel stories. I tried to share with them about how the Lord Jesus Christ loved them and wanted to have a personal relationship with each of them, but neither expressed an interest.
A few weeks ago, Dale told me the sad news that his doctor had exhausted all treatment options and recommended he go on home hospice care. Both Dale and Marcie wanted him to die at home.
I dialed their home number. I asked Marcie how they were doing? “Dale died at two a.m. in the middle of the ice storm. I didn’t want to call out the night shift hospice nurse because the roads were so bad. You were always his favorite nurse, so he asked that you be the one to pronounce him dead.”
My eyes filled with tears. I had no idea that I was his favorite nurse. “Of course, Marcie. I’m so sorry you were alone when he died. I’ll start right now, but it will probably take me longer to get there because the roads are so bad. I hope no fallen trees block the roads.”
Gripping the steering wheel, I passed ice-laden trees with branches touching forming an arch across the road. The sparkling fields dazzled me like a million diamonds. Ninety minutes later, I turned down their long secluded lane and drove through the thick woods. I parked in front of their stately Tudor style home, took my stethoscope out of my bag, and my folder with the death certificate. At my knock, Marcie let me in and we hugged. Her pale face and dark circles under her eyes revealed her long night. She led me to Dale’s bedroom and I looked at his pale gray thin face. After I listened to his silent chest with my stethoscope for a few moments, I began to fill out his death certificate at their kitchen table, but my tears soon blurred my vision.
Marcie said, “I didn’t think nurses cried.”
“This one does. I enjoyed getting to know you and Dale these past months and I’ll miss him. Would you mind if I prayed for you?”
We bowed our heads and I asked God to comfort Marcie through the Lord Jesus Christ. I gave her a small paper with Bible verses about God’s comfort. After completing the death certificate and a goodbye hug, I drove back to the office. I never heard from Marcie again.
“Jesus wept” (John 11:35) at the grave of Lazarus, and over His beloved city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:40). Isaiah described Him centuries before He came to earth as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. (Isaiah 53:4). We are instructed in Romans 12: 15 to “weep with those who weep”. Sometimes nursing students are instructed to distance themselves emotionally from their patients or they will lose their objectivity. This is true to a certain extent. But as a patient, I appreciated the nurses who treated me with compassion and kindness. The Christian nurses who prayed for me comforted me the most.