Carolyn Streekstra combines clinical excellence with a degree of empathy that goes beyond description and any classroom or bedside training.
We shared a patient together who was 42 years old with two small children. The patient presented with diffusely metastatic breast cancer almost 13 years earlier. At the patient's last encounter here, I explained that there were no further treatment options for which benefit would outweigh the risk and that I recommended expeditious enrollment in Hospice.
The patient asked me how much time she had left, I gave her an honest and forthright answer. The patient knew she was dying, but the imminence of her death became clear through our conversation, and the emotional weight of accepting this grim prognosis, especially when the patient had to think about her two young children, was understandably enormous.
Carolyn had worked past the end of her shift and when she saw this patient sobbing, she instinctively knelt beside the patient and held her hand. No words were needed. The sustained eye contact between Carolyn and this patient was moving to witness.
I hope that when I am dying I have a nurse like Carolyn rather than feeling like a widget on an assembly line. I would like to feel like a person with a name. I would like to be reassured by the physical gesture of compassion and the gentle gaze of solidarity in a time of great suffering and loss.
Carolyn bears witness and leans in when it would be much simpler and easier to look away. She treats her patients the way she would want to be treated. Her calmness near the shadow of the valley is exceptional and I think worthy of recognition. It reminds others of us on the front line to let go of fears surrounding events beyond our control. She reminds me why I went into medicine in the first place.