Nicole Cabaniss
February 2019
University of Virginia Health System
United States




As a nurse, I know that we often carry the burden along with a family. Often our own hearts are breaking while we hold and comfort family members. I find myself in a situation that no child ever wishes to be in. My mother has cancer, which has not responded to over a year of chemotherapy. We came to the ER on Christmas night and my mother was in excruciating pain.
During this visit, she made the decision to become a DNR/DNI and to begin hospice care. As her daughter, I knew she was tired, physically, emotionally and mentally. As a nurse, I saw the outward physical signs that her disease was progressing in the opposite direction and I prayed. I myself was exhausted- I had been up for over 24 hours, held mom's hand and watched her be in agonizing pain. I was struggling to keep composure.
When Nikki first introduced herself I felt a kindred spirit with her. She immediately not only started to care for my mother, but she started to take care of me too. I wasn't her patient and she did not have to take on the extra burden of caring for me too, but she did, and she did it with grace and finesse that I have never experienced before. She advocated for my mother's medications to be changed so that it would better suit her goals. She gauged the activities of the day based on my mother's non-verbal indicators. She would delay certain tasks if Mom had dozed off because she knew that my mom was sleep deprived amongst many other things. Despite being busy, she would listen to my concerns, whether they were personal or for my mom.
By the end of Nikki's shift that day, I felt that my family had gained another member. She was no longer the name on the whiteboard, she was no longer a nurse, she was our friend. We were beyond blessed and ecstatic when we had Nikki as our nurse again the following day. When your mother is passing away, not having to retell the story or explain small nuances make the life for the patient and primary caregiver so much easier. I had held composure so well until I saw her face again. She simply asked me, "and how are you?" It was a question that didn't have a simple, brief reply. It was an answer that led to me crying, me explaining to her that I had been afraid to sleep because I was afraid my mom would pass away and I wouldn't know it.
Without hesitation, Nikki scooped in me a hug and cried with me. She held me and just allowed to me let the weight of my emotions fall on her shoulders. The weight that I had carried and not even flinched at. The weight that threatened to spill over at any moment, but that I held back. Nikki took this, she took it and did not even flinch. She gave me the most precious gift any colleague had ever given me. She gave me peace, compassion, and friendship. At this point in the process, I didn't need anyone to explain what was next, I didn't need fancy words or anything with frills. What I simply needed was for someone to love my mother and care for her because for now, I needed to be a daughter, not a nurse.
To those reading this, you may be thinking that it is expected that all nurses would respond this way or that it is our duty to care for patients and families in this manner. But Nikki takes your mission statement to a higher level. She not only provides safe care, she not only advocates or makes the customer feel at home - she makes this home, but she also goes beyond advocating and she provides top-notch, high-quality care! I will never be able to repay her for the love, kindness, and compassion that she provided to my mother and our family during this process.