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January 2012, Volume 42 Number 1 , p 12 - 13


  • Harleah G. Buck PhD, RN, CHPN


IT WAS A BUSY 3-to-11 shift on a busy floor. We could turn over half of the beds on shift, easily. You could meet yourself coming and going out of the clean utility room. Did I mention that it was a very busy shift?I was flying down a long corridor when I overheard one of the younger surgeons say to another physician that he had to see a patient and "deliver bad news." Something made me stop and offer to go with him. I'd recently started volunteering at our local hospice and was looking for opportunities to make a difference.The doc looked relieved as we went into the middle-aged woman's room. I shut the door behind us. One day post-op, she was lying in the bed with her husband in a chair next to her holding her hand. Her young adult children were sitting around the bed, leaning toward her. They all looked apprehensive as they turned toward the physician. He took a deep breath and said, "I'm very sorry...." I don't believe that anyone heard another word after that.The physician quickly summarized his findings in a quiet and caring voice, looking the patient and her husband in the eye. He concluded his report by stating that he'd ask an oncologist to come and see them that day, then excused himself.Something made me stay. I stood quietly by the bed, holding the woman's other hand while she and her family absorbed the news. When they began to talk about what they'd do next, I was able to offer information on local resources, including hospice. But mostly, I just stood, offering therapeutic presence. When I sensed that they were ready to be alone, I quietly excused myself.When I opened the door, I was immediately sucked back into the craziness of the shift. I'd been in that room maybe 5 or 10 minutes. No one noticed that I'd been gone. But when the family later sent a letter to the hospital commending the caring nurses at that hospital, they mentioned what I'd done. It turned out that the patient was a nurse and she recognized good nursing care when she saw it. I did mention

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