The family of a beloved patient to our unit had come to the heart wrenching decision to withdraw support. Mandy had been the primary nurse of this patient and had developed a very loving, yet professional relationship with his family throughout his many hospitalizations. Mandy was a part of numerous conversations with this family where she offered her honest opinion in regards to their child’s quality of life. She helped this family to come to peace with the decision to end his suffering and allow him to have a controlled and peaceful death.
Saturday was an emotionally difficult day in caring for the patient and the family, as the family had made the decision to withdraw support that evening. My shift was coming to an end when I first saw Mandy, about an hour early for her shift, come into the room to offer her support. The doctors had explained to the family they felt that when the patient was taken off the ventilator, his little body would not have much reserve and felt he would pass quickly and peacefully. The room was full of tearful faces and hurting hearts as we were all preparing to say goodbye to such a sweet baby boy.
I will never forget the gestures of compassion that Mandy had at this moment with this mother. Once the breathing tube was removed, Mandy, in an instant was able to recognize the fear in the mother’s face, as the mother looked at her child while he was trying to take his last few breaths. Sensing the mother was becoming overwhelmed; she bent on her knees, put her hand on the baby’s back and guided him to his mother’s shoulder, where she was able to hold her son on her chest for the last moments of his life. Because of Mandy’s thoughtfulness, this mother was given time holding her son in a way she had not been able to do in months, due to his disease.
I have never seen a nurse assist the family in cradling the baby this way during the withdrawal of support, and the image of this mother nestling and loving her son so closely has forever changed the way I will handle a family and end of life care with a child. Mandy was a constant support and was able to provide an unspoken reassurance that the family so desperately needed. Mandy remained on her knees for over 40 minutes, in front of the mother and the grandmother; holding their hands, and wiping the tears from their eyes and the drips from their noses. I will never forget that sweet baby boy and his loving family.
But more importantly, I will never forget Mandy, in that moment, functioning so eloquently as a nurse in my eyes, and as an angel in the eyes of the family.