About two years ago, in early Spring, my mother was diagnosed with rare mandibular salivary gland cancer. She did not use tobacco products. She underwent radiation treatments and surgery. Though not in the best health, she aced that hurdle like a champ. The next winter, the PET scan showed small spots on both lungs and another spot in her intestines. The spot was removed from the intestines and her oncologist continued to monitor the lungs. Repeatedly, there was no change or growth to the spots on the lungs. We had hope!
For many years, mom experienced a "seasonal" cough and she was later diagnosed with COPD that, in time, became progressively worse and would occasionally require oxygen. Recently, mom was rushed to MRMC ER with breathing difficulties. The ER doctor explained that she was experiencing severe pulmonary failure and needed to be "temporarily" placed on the ventilator to clear the excessive CO2 from her blood and give her lungs time to strengthen. We were told mom would be sent to CCU and could be on the ventilator for up to one week. Thankfully, mom was alert enough to give the consent for the vent placement. This didn't seem too bad. After all, mom had always bounced back from much worse. She would be in and out in no time!
Upon arrival to the unit, the doctor ordered CT scans to evaluate moms lungs. Nurse Shelly Vodrazka, "Nurse V" was on shift. Nurse V was very attentive to mom, as well as our needs and concerns. I could tell she truly cared for her patients. Thursday afternoon, Nurse V returned with the docotr and the test results. The results were devastating and news the cancer had spread to mom's brain shook us to our core. Her brain had already begun to swell and shift. We were not expecting to hear this! Nurse V cried along with Dad and me as we sat numbly trying to process all that was being said. She was so apologetic for showing her emotions. I don't believe she realized how comforting it was to know that mom's caregiver shared our feelings and tears.
The family made the dreaded decision to transition mom to comfort care and remove the ventilator. All of mom's brothers, sisters and other family gathered around my unconscious mother to whisper farewells that we weren't sure she could even hear. Sadly, my brother and sister did not get the chance to speak with mom in the ER before she was ventilated.
Per protocol, we were asked to leave the room while the vent was removed. We were waiting just outside mom's door when Nurse V called us to quickly return to the room. Mom had opened her eyes and attempted to speak. Thanks to Nurse V's empathy and attentiveness to my mother, my family was afforded the opportunity to gather around my mother and say a final farewell in which mom could acknowledge by nodding and squeezing hands. Thanks to Nurse V, my mother was able to hear "we love you" from her husband and children. My family and I were able to experience some form of closure through the ability of expressing our love and knowing she heard us. It was a very brief moment that could have easily been missed just before mom drifted off into unconsciousness that she would never awaken from again.
Nurse V was due to get off shift at 7 p.m. but elected to remain with my mother to assist with the removal of the vent and the transition to comfort care.
My mom died the following week while in route to Hospice House.
Nurse V could have left at the end of her shift, but she chose to stay. She could have been very methodical in the processes of care and ignored the signs of mom's alertness, but she didn't. She could have chosen to not go the extra step to call us back to mom's bedside as she knew it would delay her departure even longer, but she cared. She cared for my mom and she cared for my family. She gave all she could that day and I will forever be grateful for Nurse Shelly Vodrazka and the choices she made. She exemplified the true meaning of nursing and gave definition to healthcare excellence.
The old English definition of "daisy" is "day's eye".
Thank you, Nurse V. You were that "day's eye" that saw a chance to show compassion. You gave me a gift that is worth more to me than you will ever earn in your career as a nurse. I got to say to goodbye to my mama and have her squeeze my hand, just one more time!