1. Fusillo, Nancy RNC, BA, MS, OCN, CRNI

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Every nurse can write a story about a patient whose personality, medical condition, and family dynamics are so impressive that the memory becomes like an incandescent candle with its warmth and vibrance.


Can I tell you about my candle?


Working weekend hospice assignments for years has brought me close to several remarkable patients and their families. The month of March brought George into my life. Diagnosed with end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, this 89-year-old gentleman personified tenacity, outstanding memory, strength of character, conviction, and a phenomenal relationship with God.


Recently widowed after 67 years of marriage, George spoke fondly of his wife, whom he had vowed to take care of while she made their home and raised their children. The son of a traveling minister who brought his religious message and zeal by horseback to the homes of small towns in western Pennsylvania, George developed a relationship with God that sustained his life from childhood to elder adulthood. Quoting scripture to me while he lay in bed, too incapacitated by his illness to walk or even sit up on the edge of the bed, the brightness of his eyes and the strength of his hand in mine transmitted the happiness he had experienced in his lifelong liaison with God.


"When the Lord wants me, I'm ready," he said clearly, despite the severe dyspnea that tormented his body. "I have many issues to discuss with Him, and I wonder what assignment God has in store for me."


George expressed his gratitude for God's vigilance over his life. "Do you believe in miracles?" he asked, eyeing me sharply. "It is so difficult for medical personnel, who are so steeped in science, to recognize God's work."


George precisely described an earlier life trauma, an almost-fatal accident in which he was saved by what he believed to be the intercession of God. After a long convalescence, he was able to heal and return to a productive life. "God oversees all," he pronounced confidently.


George appeared sustained and buoyed by his steadfast devotion to God, and queried me as to other aspects of religious doctrine, seeming mildly skeptical of my responses. Acknowledging his lifelong dedication to God, I could not help but feel captivated and somewhat humbled at the same time.


How well do we really get to know our patients, I wondered? Does the diagnosis of imminent death or do-not-resuscitate status hinder our thinking, lessen our commitment, or alter our in-depth bedside skills and level of caring? Are we too quick to judge our dying patients, seeing their situations as final and inevitable? How many other Georges have been overlooked? How many nurses have denied themselves the acquaintance of a patient like my George?


At the conclusion of my shift, after reporting off to the next nurse, I hugged George and thanked him for the stimulating conversation and sojourn with God. Unable to say the word "good-bye," I whispered, "Be at peace, God is truly with you."