Deserted but not Alone.

It was one of those shifts. One that dragged on and on and was mostly spent with the nurses huddled together at the station, giggling over something ridiculous a patient said.  It was low-key and low drama.  Perfect for seasoned nurses; a real bore for new ones.   Our manager, a gem of a lady, came through handing out shots of expresso to boost us.

We were all laughing and having fun when my charge nurse said quietly, “ Do you think we could move this group into bed 7?”  

I looked at her surprised.

“How come?” I questioned immediately.  Her response was equally quick.

“He was just made comfort measures, they are starting morphine … and he has no family here or that’s coming.”  

We all immediately stopped lounging and got up.  Our orientees dogging our steps, we filed into the room.  All 9 of us on the floor.  We took turns murmuring our hellos or simply squeezing his hand.  He peered at us and nodded.  He had been on our unit for a few weeks and we had all, at some point, encountered him.  He was simply adorable.  His wife had severe dementia and didn’t know him anymore.  His only son was estranged.  His neighbors had already said their goodbyes.  

One of the nurses who had him the most leaned over to him and said quietly in his ear.

“Your wife is ok.  She will be taken care of…” she paused and squeezed his hand, “You’re with friends now, ok?”  

He opened his eyes and looked around glassy eyed as his oxygen levels dropped.  9 figures in blue surrounded him.  He nodded briefly and closed his blue eyes.

“My friends.” He repeated to himself over and over.

Tears clouded every eye in the room and the ones closest laid a hand on him as we watched silently as the color drifted from his cheeks.

The new nurses looked around nervously as death came into the room.  The rest of us were stoic with shimmers of tears threatening to spill over as we watched the last bit of life drain from his face.

I stepped back and discreetly surveyed the room.  All eyes were either looking down or at him.  Bittersweet smiles on their faces as they knew he was at peace.  9 nurses, side by side, grieved for this man whose family was unable to do so.   It was in that moment that I could see how lost the hospital would be without nurses, how sterile and heartless it would become.   I stood with 9 of my coworkers who work short staffed constantly and nearly half have been hit or bitten since I have worked with them.  They are degraded, ignored and yelled at by patients, families and staff… and yet they are the most humane, sincere group I have ever known.

This patient died without family.

But he did not die alone.