As a pediatric intensive care nurse
, I dreaded the holidays because tragedies were even more poignant and painful due to the time of the year. This one particular Christmas proved me wrong—
not because of the lack of human loss but because of the greatness of the human spirit.
I first met Sam when the lab called in a panic about her urinalysis. Her urine glucose levels were off the scale. Something was terribly wrong... but it wasn't Sam's urine. It was the apple juice she sent down that was diluted with a touch of her urine. She giggled and giggled about her "trick." Sam was in the hospital for her "treatments," and frankly, she was bored. She could not understand why we examined her urine when her cancer was wrapped around her spine. She asked, "Why does my pee care about my ugly spot?" She called her tumor her ugly spot, because on the scans it looked ugly to her. It was that simple.
As the months went by and Sam entered and left the hospital, it became clear that the "ugly spot" was growing and Sam's fight was becoming harder. As we entered the holiday season, other team members and I attempted to prepare the family for what we knew was Sam's last Christmas. A couple weeks before that Christmas, I worked nights. I checked in on Sam and saw she was sleeping. I quietly went about my assessment and vital signs. As I finished up, a quiet voice spoke out, "You know I am not afraid." Startled, I apologized for waking her up. She giggled and said, "I thought it was funny how you tiptoed around my bed."
I sat down in the chair next to her bed and asked, "You're not afraid?"
She sat up and said, "Nope. I am not afraid, not one iota."
I asked again, "Not afraid?"
She giggled and said, "To die, you silly goose."
Wow, what do you say in response? As I was working to find words, she leaned over and opened her bedside drawer. She pulled out several papers and laid them out on her bed. As I turned the light on, I saw sketches of hands. Hands providing care to what I assumed was Sam. One of the pictures had a series of hands around a black object that she explained was her ugly spot. Sam chattered away about how the hands were loving, caring even, when they caused pain. She knew that the hands were always there to help her.
I've never forgotten the picture of the pair of hands cupped open with a young girl sitting in them staring upward. She called the picture her "I am not afraid to die" picture. What was amazing was she wasn't. Leading up to Christmas Day, we worked hard to get her home, but it wasn't to be. She directed the decorating of her room from her bed. She requested that anyone entering her room must sing her favorite holiday jingles, critiqued by her for tone, execution and delivery. We protested when she compared us against each other, as some of us could sing while others not so much. She just giggled.
Sam lost her fight two days after Christmas. Several days later, her mother called and asked if I would stay a little bit over as she had something from Sam. She handed me an envelope with my name written on it. Her mom said she had found it in the papers brought home from Sam's room.
She simply had written "Thank You!" in the middle of a heart.
Nurses touch lives in so many ways every day. This holiday season, ADVANCE for Nurses was able to give away a limited number of copies of "Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul" by Nurse and Author LeAnn Thieman. The book serves as a little pick-me-up to remind clinicians about why they became a nurse and the compassionate impact they bring to patients and families. Thanks to all who clicked to receive a copy.