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Precious time spent with a dying veteran

Patient Spotlight February 15, 2018 By Donna Lynn Rugh, MSN, RN-BC, CHPN

I met Jack on a very sunny afternoon. He was admitted to our hospital, now, for the sixth time in a year. Because of his diagnosis, the medical team had no options left for a cure for Jack.

Our team was asked to visit Jack to discuss the option of going on hospice for his future care. Meeting patients under these circumstances is difficult, even for those of us who have these discussions every day. I entered Jack’s room and was greeted by an amazing smile. His wife sat quietly by his side. His sons were there as well. There were many jokes between sons and father—I felt as if I was stealing some of their precious time together.

Nonetheless, I was welcomed by Jack, who insisted I sit down next to him and hold his hand. “They told me someone would come to talk with me about how to die…I hope that’s you because I would really like to get moving on this,” he said. It is unusual that patients are so very ready to talk about their own death and how their days are fewer than ever…but Jack did. He wanted to tell me who he was—a U.S. Army infantryman who fought at the Battle of the Bulge with the shrapnel embedded in his skull to prove it. I can still hear him saying, “Feel right here, that’s been in there longer than you’ve been alive!” He wanted me to know how much he loved his wife and how she doted upon him despite his “many downfalls.” Jack was the proud father of those two “boys” who were now sitting at the foot of his bed. He was the grandfather of “the most adorable little lady on the planet.”

Jack allowed his family to be present for our two-hour discussion about what was important to him in the moment and in the future. He didn’t want any visitors coming to see him while he was dying. He just wanted to “be” with those he loved. He wanted relief from his shortness of breath. He wanted to joke with his sons. He wanted to give his wife reprieve of caring for him and simply allow her to love him until his last breath.

Jack was a gift to me—this conversation reminded me of how very blessed we all are to have life, to live it to the fullest and most importantly, to love deeply and make time for what’s important.