Mrs. Dundee was a 50-year-old woman with end-stage lung cancer, which had metastasized to her brain and bones. She was from out-of-state, but she and her husband had done their homework and selected our university teaching hospital and our doctors. I’d spoken to Mr. Dundee twice while Mrs. D was semiconscious, and had established some rapport.
Family and friends from all over were gathering to say goodbye to the patient, including her daughter who was eight months pregnant. The room was often filled with laughter and tears, and many loving stories of good times in the past.
I visited one day, and was surprised to see the patient out of bed. I greeted Mrs. Dundee, she began talking softly, her voice barely audible. Her friends began interpreting her statements to me, explaining that Mrs. D was meaning this or that, and that she was confused. I continued to focus on the patient, and encouraged Mrs. Dundee to speak. I also encouraged the family to listen to her.
Mrs. Dundee then told us an amazing story of sitting alone in her motor home soon after being diagnosed with cancer. She described crying her heart out, overcome with fear about what the future might bring. After a while she began talking to God, and soon felt a warm breeze move over her, followed by being completely filled with peace, a feeling which remained with her ever since. She said, “Everything will be okay, I’m in God’s hands. I’m so lucky to have my husband, I’m so lucky to have my family, I’m so lucky to have my friends,” and she went on and on, listing people she cared about.
She relaxed as she spoke, and her voice became stronger and clearer as we listened. A sense of awe descended in the room. When she became silent, I acknowledged the beautiful gift she’d given us. One of her friends offered to write the story down and share it with family and friends who had not been present
I believe it took a nurse to recognize the potential in this situation. This was a sacred moment in Mrs. D’s life. She was displaying more energy and alertness than she had in several days. She had something to say. I modeled patience, presence and active listening for the friends and family gathered, and this empowered her to bring forth her story. Once her story was received, its value became clear to all of us. Her daughter would write down her mother’s words for those not present, including the unborn grandchild. Mrs. Dundee’s’ story would live on.
Ramita Bonadonna, RN, MSN
Charleston, South Carolina