1. Stock, Cynthia
  2. MSN, RN, CCRN


A nurse finds she must revise her negative view of cell phones.


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On Monday, if you had asked me how I feel about cell phones, I would have come up with this: I hate to listen to the drone of conversation coming from the person next to me on the treadmill at the gym. I don't care about trouble with the HOA. I don't care about a son who can't decide on a career as a director or an actor. I work out to smooth the kinks in my soul from a job that requires me to navigate a relationship with life and death.

Figure. Illustration... - Click to enlarge in new window Illustration by Denny Bond.

Today, ask me how I feel about cell phones.


Yesterday my patient died. It was not an easy death for her. It was even harder for the family. The woman's adult children researched and found interventions not available in a small town. They urged their mother to seek treatment, even though it meant leaving home and the things that made her special. You know the things: a workroom filled with boxes of fabric, a classic cookie press, an old Singer sewing machine still made of metal parts.


For love of her children she traveled several hours and agreed to a procedure full of risks and potential benefits. Everything that could go wrong did.


After several days of watching their mother deteriorate, the children needed to go home and attend to their own health and home maintenance responsibilities. The day before their mother died I suggested they wait until a stable 24 hours passed. She had been improving, but she remained unresponsive, except for a rare flutter of her eyelids. I labeled her physical condition tenuous.


I started my next shift at 7 am. In less than 10 minutes, I knew I needed to call them back to the hospital. I dialed the daughter's cell phone and found that she and her brother had gone all the way home, not to the motel where they, like their mother, had been suffering their own sort of displacement.


I knew their mother would die sometime that day. The thought of such a loss, handled long distance, tormented me. Haunted by images of my mother's last foray into the hospital, I recalled my fear of her suffering some catastrophe with neither me nor my sisters present.


Several phone calls took place between me and her children, her children and her physicians. While we talked and planned, rationalized and apologized, the patient's kidneys failed. She stopped responding when I called her name. The most extreme efforts to maintain life began to falter. The children's only request was to say goodbye to her.


This time I called upon the cell phone, the villain in a world filled with too much information and not enough direct human contact. I set a time for the children to speak to their mother.


I have big hands. A cell phone feels so small and thin. I have to concentrate to dial. I invested in a TracFone for 911 calls or lesser emergencies on lightly traveled roads, not for heavy conversation. For that I stick to my landline. So my supervisor's phone facilitated the last goodbye.


I called the children and put the phone on speaker. "I'm holding the phone to your mother's ear." Picture a frail octogenarian, skin gray, loose, with patchy bruising along her forearms. She seems asleep due to a continuous infusion of sedative. Tubes, tape, and devices defile the facial features that make her someone's mother.


The daughter's words stuttered from a bad connection, conveying a simple, beautiful tribute to a woman who created art just by being the mother to two children.


"Thank you for being such a wonderful mother. Thank you for being there and teaching us how to be good people. Thank you for loving us so. I know you have just moved on and will be waiting for us in a place where we will all be together. I love you, Mom."


I heard words I might someday say to my mother. I sucked in a breath but couldn't hold back my tears. I hoped the children didn't hear them.


"Here's brother."


From the phone came the sounds of the phone being passed. A male voice, sobbing, announced, "I love you, Mom."


What passed between mother and children through a lightweight assembly of black plastic pieces felt no less painful or final than if they had been standing at the bedside. I felt the privilege of having shared such a moment with a unique family. I cried as if they were in the room, quietly, so as not to diminish their pain with my own.


If you ask me today about cell phones, I will tell you a story about the power of a final connection, a eulogy echoing through space in hopes of finding one woman's soul.