Lessons in the life of a Nurse

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I met Karol a few weeks ago. She had been admitted for some medical complications secondary to her metastatic breast cancer; that means the cancer has spend to other organs beyond the origins of the primary cancer. Karol was a woman in her early 60’s, she was easy to talk to and  quick to share stories about who she was and her life. We talked for a while in her hospital room about her travels and her love of books. Her husband had passed into Eternity 8 years ago but Karol had many friends so although childless, she was not alone in life. She was quite happy.

The plan on for Karol on the day we first met was for her likely discharge over the weekend. I would call her in a week or two following her discharge to home. I returned to work on Monday to find that Karol hadn’t gone home, in fact her condition had deteriorated and she needed to be moved to the cardiac step-down unit. I to visit her later that day. Her sister Kathy had just flown in from Florida to spend sometime with her…even thought Karol told her not to come. As Karol dozed in her bed, I could see the look of concern in her sister’s face. I could understand her feelings, Karol looked much sicker than when we talked last week, her skin was clearly jaundiced and she needed oxygen.

As the week progressed it became evident that Karol’s condition was deteriorating, she was dying. She stabilized enough to be moved back to the oncology floor, which in my opinion is a more peaceful unit.

I went to visit Karol later that day. She told me that she awoke early that morning and asked herself, “is this the day that I should let go”? I asked Karol if she believed if we have the power to decide on when we die. Yes she replied, don’t you. I have been with people who hold on in this life until a particular family member arrives, sometimes I see people seemingly wait to let go until their loved ones leave the room…did I believe that we could decide when we die? No I don’t think we have that power, I have witnessed too much needless suffering to believe this to be true.

Her phone rang. I could hear her on the phone with friends, who were obviously full of sorrow and crying while talking with her. During that conversation she spent much of the time comforting those who would be left behind after she departed this life. This I told her is a phenomenon I frequently witness; the dying comforting the living. Karol was completely at ease with her impending death. She told me that she wasn’t afraid to die and was at peace. I shared that I believed that peace was a result of living a life that was free of unforgiveness. Yes, she agreed this was true.

I left her room that afternoon. I didn’t talk with Karol again, the next time I went to see her she was unconscious, moving closer to Eternity. Her sister was at her side, friends came and went. Karol left this life peacefully later that day.

We have much to learn from those who are dying. I am most thankful for the time I spent with Karol. I do hope and pray that someday soon we will be even further along in our fight against cancer…in the meantime I continue to reach out in kindness.