A Nurse Becomes a Daughter
By Diane M. Goodman, APRN, BC, CCRN, CNRN
It usually began with one of the dreaded phone calls initiated by my siblings. My mother, who had survived more crises than the proverbial cat, was declining rapidly again, losing weight and experiencing increased shortness of breath. As a longtime COPD patient, my mother had weathered a decade of supplemental oxygen use, as well as the peaks and valleys of spring/fall COPD exacerbations.
It hadn’t slowed her down much, though. She still enjoyed the occasional shopping trip to purchase books or clothing, items she loved to collect and store in droves. Pastels, particularly, were her thing.
Holidays, however, were punctuated with the sound of her gasping for air, as she moved from room to room, clinging to each piece of furniture as if it were an anchoring buoy in boisterous seas. During flu season we collectively held our breath, hoping she would avoid catastrophe for one more year.
This time, however, it seemed our luck had run out. Down to an emaciated 83 pounds, Mom was unable to get out of bed, bathe or feed herself, or take after her beloved (and equally debilitated) senior dog. It was the time we had all come to dread … the time to make difficult, adult decisions regarding her future.
For me, it meant making the trip home again, literally and figuratively. As the sole “medical” provider in the family, my siblings needed help traversing the options available: palliative care, hospice, assisted living, skilled care, etc. These terms may have been familiar to me, but were foreign principles and processes to my family.
What I didn’t expect to happen during my stay, however, was a friendship and bonding with my mother that became special and new. We spent hours together in the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with an acute pneumonia. Following that, we spent even longer hours together in her inpatient room, where we laughed, reminisced and chuckled over her “couture” hospital gown, and bemoaned a lack of lipstick and manicures.
Our giggling grew to astronomical proportions when Mom realized I had not only inadvertently packed her dog’s hairbrush, but had also had used it to tidy her hair.
Yes, she was terribly ill, but we were enjoying one another’s company nonetheless.
Suddenly, placement issues seemed less important than me taking the time to rub her back, or to sit quietly beside her and watch her sleep. Every diagnostic test was another reason to ruffle her hair, give her a tight squeeze, an air kiss and say “I love you” one more time. We acted like long-lost school friends, watching Animal Planet, and discussing everything from politics to the joys of snuggling the plush Easter Bunny I brought to her room (pastel, of course!).
We’re not sure why we became inseparable during this particular time, other than the fact there is a “time and season for everything,” and this was the season to hold tight to everything I deemed precious about the woman who gave me life.
This was the time to get it right, in case there were no future times for giggling.
It was time for me to fully engage in becoming a nurse and a daughter, and to demonstrate why the two did not have to be separate entities.
Above anything else, it was time for me to become what she had always imagined: a daughter who had come into her own.
My mother died peacefully in her sleep the morning of May 2, after holding tightly to my hand throughout the night. Her passing was as peaceful and beautiful as the way she lived.
Diane Goodman is a clinical educator at Advocate Condell Medical Center, Libertyville, IL.