A Thanksgiving Memory

This is my favorite Thanksgiving Memory.  I post it every Thanksgiving to remind me of how truly thankful I am for all the wonderful people in my life!!

Vintage Thanksgiving Postcard

Vintage Thanksgiving Postcard

Dear Nursing Administrator,

Today I witnessed an act, which for the first time, made me grateful to have worked Thanksgiving Day.  Before I explain, you need to understand a little background.

For the past month or so we have been caring for a nineteen year old-young man in room 419, who is slowly dying from lymphoma.  Over this past month I have never looked after, nor been involved in this patient’s care.  In fact, I didn’t even really pay attention.  Why?  I’m not sure.  As charge nurse I was up to date on his name, age, room number and diagnosis.  I knew his mom was a nurse and his father was a New York City Police Officer.  I knew that one or both parents never left his bedside.  I knew I found it extremely uncomfortable to participate in his case, what I didn’t know was why; I’m still not completely sure.  Maybe it was his age, maybe it was because his parents were always there, maybe it was because I identified with this family on some level and steeled myself from getting involved.  My apathy, or perhaps cowardice, found it helpful that their room was at the very end of our unit, so far removed from the nurse’s station, that their daily story played out on what seemed a far away stage.

Our unit is a twenty bed Cardiac Care Unit (CCU), not a hospice ward.  I’m used to dealing with critically ill, older patients in cardiac distress.  Even when those patient’s are terminally ill, I somehow rise to the occasion to support their crumbling family.  But this boy, what was he doing here?  What did I know of caring for a nineteen year old?  Apparently there are cardiac complications that come from bone marrow transplants which led this boy to our unit, and subsequently into our lives.

So while my head was buried in the sand for the past month, there were several amazing nurses consistently caring for this patient.  But today, Thanksgiving Day, I would soon come to find out just what I had been hiding from, because today I was assigned to care for this boy.

What had I been hiding from?  His family was lovely; two devoted parents sitting vigil in their hopes and tears.  His nurse mother was someone I could have easily seen myself working side by side with, and his NYPD dad, well, I must confess was a reminder of my own NYPD dad.  But this boy of nineteen was so ill.  His body reflected the disease that had stolen his youth and replaced it with the frame of an old man’s.  Swaddled in blankets to fend off the cold, his face was the only piece of flesh I could see; though his eyes were pale and hollowed, a spark, still dimly lit, reflected back, and a smile slow danced across his lips from time to time.

Room 419 was where this family would spend their last Thanksgiving together.  No fancy table, no turkey, nothing to remind them of the holiday unfolding on most American tables that day.  No, this room was the exact opposite.  The only reminder of the outside world I could gather was the pile of soda cans collecting on the window sill.

Then lunchtime arrived, and with it came Emma, one of our nurses, (off duty that day), with a large bag in her arms, and a six-pack of soda in her hand, heading for room 419.  As I went to greet her with a confused expression on my face, and a ,”What are you doing here on your day off?”  She told me she was here to bring 419’s family Thanksgiving dinner before she was due to catch a train to her own Thanksgiving dinner.  You see, while I was flying under the radar where this family was concerned, Emma was flying high; high on her morals, her faith, and her uncompromising dedication of what it means to be a nurse.  There was no way she could sit down for her own Thanksgiving meal, without first and foremost providing one for this family she had grown so close to.  What a special moment to witness.

Thanksgiving is such an American holiday.  We all take pride in our heritage, our sophisticated menu’s, our high-end wine lists, alternately, we take such a twisted approach on sharing a meal with family we might not want to be sitting next to.

Ironically, Emma is not at all American, she is Filipino.  But somehow, she, more than any American I know was able to take this holiday, and provide one family with the gift of thanks, when they probably felt too weak to feel anything but the life of their core slipping away.  I know this family was truly thankful for this one gift, this one meal, that this one very special nurse provided for them on what would be their last Thanksgiving as a complete family.

Vintage Thanksgiving Poem

I was thankful to have had the opportunity to witness grace in action.Several days later the boy in room 419 was granted his wish to go home to die.  His parents complied, and forty-five minutes after being laid to rest in his own bed, that nineteen year old boy died on his own terms, in his own way.

I will never forget this Thanksgiving as long as I live.  I am nominating Emma for the highest award we give to nurses in our hospital; The Daisy Award.  I’m sure every Thanksgiving I will be reminded of this family and be truly grateful for all the wonderful people in my own life.

Sincerely,

Jean

I wrote that letter over ten years ago, and I have never forgotten the family from room 419, or the nurse who made their last days bearable.  They make me thankful every year for the life I have, and the family I live it with.

Since that time I have become a mother myself.  Losing a child, any age, is unfathomable to me; it was my understanding he was their only son.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, don’t sweat the small stuff.  Who cares if the Turkey’s a little dry, or the company’s a little wet.  Be thankful to be together with your family and friends.

I know I’ll be!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!

thanksgiving vintage postcard

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8 thoughts on “A Thanksgiving Memory

  1. What a heart-wrenching yet beautiful story, and what an important read for me before I start this Thanksgiving day. A reminder to be grateful for all I have, and a reminder to help ease the pain of others in whatever way I can. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  2. Beautifully written and profoundly honest, Jean. Clearly, Emma was a wonderful nurse and a special human being. But it’s also obvious that you took the opportunity to grow as a person, and I have no doubt many others have since benefitted from your heightened awareness. Thank you for posting this.

    • Thank you for such a lovely comment. This is one of those moments frozen in time for me that I will never forget, and I do carry it with me and try to pass it forward when I can.

  3. So Happy for you that you were able to experience that moment of compassion and embraced it. it’s truly a gift that money can’t buy!

  4. Thank you for re-sharing such a loving post. The nurse’s actions, as well as the way in which you wrote about them, were simply beautiful. I stood by my mother’s bedside for weeks as she slowly slipped away, and I am convinced that some of her nurses truly were angels in disguise.

    • Thank you for such a lovely comment. I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother, but it sounds like she got wonderful care. I love this story about this nurse and will publish it every Thanksgiving as a reminder of what it truly means to be grateful.

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