Our Unforgettable Patients

If you want to find out what motivates nurses to do what they do every single day, ask them about some of the patients who made a difference in their lives…the stories that they tell will move you; they will make you laugh and cry, and they just may help you to understand the power of purposeful service to others. Every now and then, completely out of the blue, I am given a gentle reminder of the unexpected gifts that this amazing profession has given to me. Yesterday, while I was cleaning out my glass cabinet looking for my red Christmas wine glass that reads “He sees you when you’re drinking”, I came across my rather impressive collection of shot glasses, and I found myself thinking about a patient whom I had the privilege of caring for several years ago. Let me explain…

This young man was diagnosed with Acute Myelocytic Leukemia (AML) in his late teens; he had spent several years in and out of the hospital for chemotherapy treatments and subsequent admissions for fever/neutropenia, blood products, etc. He had been doing well; he was working hard and attending college on a full scholarship when he found out that his cancer had relapsed and he was going to need a bone marrow transplant (BMT). He stayed strong and optimistic; he had big goals and cancer wasn’t going to get in his way. He was turning 21 just before his scheduled BMT and he had plans to take a trip to Las Vegas with his friends because that was how he wanted to spend his birthday “sipping Patrón tequila and partying”. He knew that each birthday was a gift, but “21” was a milestone that he wanted to experience the most; he wanted to be like every other 21-year-old who got drunk on his birthday as a “right of passage”. This was amusing to all who knew him because this young man was the very last person you could imagine drinking tequila in Vegas! Unfortunately, due to an infection, he ended up having to spend his 21st  birthday in the hospital (in the very un-exciting state of NJ). Yes, he was disappointed, but he rolled with the punches that kept coming his way (as always).

I was working nights at the time, and at the stroke of midnight, on his 21st birthday, all available staff on duty that we could muster up for a few minutes, entered his room singing “Happy Birthday to you…”; we all had shot glasses (aka 30 ml clear plastic medicine cups) of apple juice in hand to toast the now “legal” birthday boy. I had a “real” shot glass from my one and only trip to Las Vegas and presented it to him for his “shot” of AJ, which he happily kept as a souvenir. As corny as this little make-shift party was, he loved it, and he talked about his plans for next year to (really) celebrate…I am certain that he never doubted for a minute that he would get to Vegas one day.

I would try to visit with him regularly to check-in and see how he was doing, and each time that I was there, he talked about his “Vegas” birthday party and smile. I didn’t fully comprehend until then how much this small gesture meant to him and that he would always carry that memory with him. Sadly, that would be his last birthday; he had fought so hard, and he never gave up. He taught me about courage and resilience, and accepting defeat gracefully. At his wake, his sister thanked me for taking the time to help him celebrate his last birthday. It meant the world to me that I could make a difference… showing someone just one small act of kindness could be that one thing that they need to get through a difficult time.

I cleaned out one of my glasses and drank a shot of apple juice in your memory today. Cheers my friend!

When you are a nurse, you know that everyday you will touch a life, or a life will touch yours.” – anonymous

enjoy the little things

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