Denise Cortez, RN, a nurse on our Oncology Unit was nominated by one of our Chaplains for her compassionate care of a terminally ill 22 year old patient during her final days. This patient had been in and out of the Oncology unit many times over the last year. She and her family had developed very strong relationships with the staff and once told the Chaplain, "The nurses are amazing; they treat us like family." The patient's 23rd birthday was approaching.
When I arrived on the unit on Friday, there was a flurry of activity. Denise and the other nurses were decorating the patient's room for her upcoming 23rd birthday on Sunday. Denise had planned this gift from the staff to the patient and her family. She purchased birthday decorations with a butterfly theme, knowing that butterflies were special to the patient, and then came in on her day off to create this special celebration. She decorated the wall with a large plastic birthday tablecloth for the staff to sign and leave special messages. There were cards with handwritten messages from the staff and crepe paper streamers all over the room. The patient, very weak but alert, said she thought it was 'so pretty'. This celebration was intended as a surprise for the patient's mother and other family members. When they arrived, the patient's mother was moved to tears by this show of support and love for her daughter and took many photos of the patient and her beautiful room.
Through Denise's initiative, the patient was surrounded by beauty and love in her last days. The patient and her family were able to have some quality time together with cerebration and smiles, and were able to make a beautiful memory in the midst of this terrible tragedy.
Many thanks to Denise and the staff for giving the patient and her family a special time to honor what was to be her last birthday. Sadly, the patient passed away on Sunday, her 23rd birthday.