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AS A HOSPICE NURSE, I thought I knew the meaning of dedication and commitment, but I didn't experience the reality of either one until recently. It was winter in Hammond, Louisiana, which is normally mild and uneventful, but this year brought an unprecedented ice storm. Electrical and phone lines were down and the power was out. Heating fuel had run out because the trucks couldn't travel the icy roads. The whole city was shut down.
My family had taken in some of our neighbors because ours was the only house in the neighborhood with a wood-burning fireplace and dry wood left to burn. We gathered in the living room and shut off the rest of the house to conserve heat. It was a bleak and unfamiliar situation for us. But my biggest concern was for my hospice patient, Randall, who lived 8 miles away. I was scheduled to work a 12-hour shift in his home, but I had no idea if I could get there.
Randall, only 32, was handsome, successful, and a well-respected businessman in our community. Unfortunately, as a result of advanced metastatic cancer he now depended on his sister and girlfriend as his primary caregivers, and on me, as his nurse, to provide necessary specialized patient care.
I made sure my family was as safe as possible before starting the difficult journey to Randall's home. My family thought I was crazy to even attempt the journey.
I drove the narrow two-lane road at 5 mph. Traveling 8 miles took me 2 hours. My car slipped, slid, and skidded on the ice-laden blacktop. I prayed, took deep breaths, and held on to the steering wheel for dear life.
When I arrived, Randall's sister Bess and girlfriend Gina were amazed but happy to see me. Without water, heat, or electricity, the house was dark and cold. Randall's family was at a loss as to how to manage Randall's needs under these circumstances. I figured I needed to get creative.
I opened all the drapes in the house to allow in some light. Randall had been incontinent, so I instructed Bess to heat some bottled water in a pan on the gas grill by the back porch. I challenged Gina to find the warmest clothes, sheets, and blankets she could find. Luckily, Randall had lived up north and liked to ski, so he had quite a few insulated warm-up suits and wool blankets.
When we were all done, Randall had a warm bath, was dressed in three layers of warm, dry clothes (including a hat and ski mask), and was covered with another three layers of warm, soft blankets. He received his enteral nutrition and pain medication as scheduled and was comfortable. Gina added the final ingredient of love by slipping under all those covers and laying her arms across his chest and her head on his shoulder.
As I completed my documentation, I wondered if I'd done enough. Just then, Randall opened his eyes and, with a sly grin, whispered, "Hey, how's the weather out there?"
Apparently, I'd attained my goal of making Randall comfortable and gained a new appreciation of the cozy, warm feeling real dedication and commitment can provide.
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