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Using the Power of Story to Improve Patient-Centred Care
"I hope when I go, I too can be comforted by a nurse in my last moments."My wife died 18 months ago. It's not a surprise at our age, 87, but it was a shock still. Laura collapsed at home one terrible day. When the ambulance rushed her to the hospital, I think part of me knew she was gone. I learned Laura suffered a massive stroke. The doctors referred to her as "unresponsive" a lot. I'm not sure how much I remember about their medical words really, but I know that word was used often clearly as a way to help me come to terms with the fact that my wife of 62 years wasn't coming back.
Nurses came and went and of course I got to know some. They talked to me and helped me understand what unresponsive really meant. What I noticed was that they also talked to Laura. "Good morning Laura, we're going to clear your airway now, I'll just be checking your vitals now." Things like that. It was nice and very respectful. They knew of course that my lovely Laura was not going to recover but they never stopped caring for her, even when it was clear that the situation was hopeless. They never told me it was going to be ok, even though I prompted them to get them to tell me what I wanted to hear as opposed to what I needed to hear. They weren't gloom and doom, they were just clear that her situation was serious.
It was this honest and caring approach that led me to the hardest decision of my life. I decided not to resuscitate should she die. No one made the decision for me and of course the doctors were helpful too, but I saw the nurses more often than I saw the doctors and I came to trust them in a way that was more connected than the doctors were. They knew Laura. Even though she never woke up, they knew her. They cared for her and me. They listened to my old man ramblings and stories of when I first met Laura. They laughed at the antics of our youth and they treated her with dignity and respect. Watching that for a week, talking to people about her and me for a week and hearing the words of all the health providers helped me make a really hard decision.
Laura died one night after I had gone home. The charge nurse called me and told me she had died. I asked her if it was peaceful and she said that my lovely Laura slipped away peacefully and not alone. One of our newly made nurse friends was there with her. That was a silver lining in an awful situation.
The nurses that cared for Laura were of varying ages and experiences. Some seemed awfully young to me, but most people do when you're as old as me. What impressed me was that regardless of their age or experience, they all showed the same level of care, knowledge and compassion. That impressed me and I hope that nurses always do this.
I'm all alone now, Laura and I never had children. I hope when I go, I too can be comforted by a nurse in my last moments.