I’ve had a busy “on call” weekend. Sometimes that makes for a grumpy, tired person. But this time, as is often the case, I just feel blessed to have good health. And, I continue to be amazed at the grace some people have in spite of very difficult circumstances. During a recent call week, I took care of a woman who needed help with an airway emergency. These situations are sure to get my adrenaline pumping, even at midnight. Or maybe especially at midnight, which is when I met Mrs. W. Thankfully our team was able to secure her airway in the operating room and return her to the ICU in hopes that she would make a full recovery from her underlying condition. She was not alert when I first met her, having had a sudden decline in her condition that day. We didn’t know how much, if any, damage may have occurred during the time she struggled for an airway. I thought about her a lot that first night, during my drive home at 4 AM, and as I lay in bed trying to sleep (post adrenaline insomnia). I often pray for my patients, especially those in serious condition.
Fast forward 36 hours and I had the pleasure of seeing Mrs W. awake, alert and pleasant, despite difficult circumstances and multiple tubes and lines that must surely be very uncomfortable. I told her my name again, and that I was helping with her tracheostomy tube, not expecting her to remember anything from our previous encounter. She was unable to speak due to the presence of the tracheostomy tube, so instead, she wanted to write something to me. Being quite weak from many days in the hospital, most recently in the ICU, her handwriting was shaky and it took her a while to write even the one word that she eventually did scratch onto the paper. The nurse and I were trying to decipher it, and she nodded when we said “Lovely”, though it was missing the “e”. I was wearing an unusual necklace that day, and assumed that is what she referred to. I finished my exam, put new trach ties on and cleaned her tracheostomy site. She is an attractive woman and I knew she’d appreciate not only good medical care, but also would appreciate looking as presentable as is possible in this situation. She had been wearing foundation makeup and mascara when I first saw her, despite suffering from a serious illness in the ICU.
I went out to the nurses station to do my electronic charting. From this vantage point, I could hear the nurse continue talking to Mrs. W. about “Lovly” and wondered what the other side of the conversation was (as it was no doubt being written just as it had been before). Within a couple of minutes, the nurse brought a piece of paper to me. As she handed it to me, she explained “Mrs. W wanted you to have this paper because she thinks you’re “Lovly”. “She wanted me to tell you that she loves you”.
I was dumbfounded that this woman, who was at death’s door less than 48 hours prior, and who barely had the strength to write, would take the time to write this message to me. She wasn’t writing to complain of the tube in her neck, or the one in her nose, or the ones in her arms or in her bladder. Or that she’d been ill for two weeks and hadn’t been able to eat or to talk for several days. Or about pain or missing her family. Honestly, I know who the real “Lovly” person is. Mrs W is indeed “Lovly” and full of grace. I could learn a thing or two from her, as I do from many of my patients. It is indeed a privilege to care for patients and their families. And I’m keeping my “Lovly” paper, in hopes that it will remind me of this privilege the next time I am up all night two nights in a row and feeling a bit sorry for myself. I will indeed strive to be “Lovly” and to deserve Mrs. W’s kind word.