1. Cash, Judy RN

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The morning is filled with bird-song and the smell of lilac. It's going to be a warm spring day, perfect for planting Angelo.


I dress and head out to my garden.


Last night, I worked until midnight, my usual shift on the medical-surgical unit. It was busy, mostly from the admissions and discharges that are now more frequent, more urgent. During the 17 years I've been a nurse, the rhythm of my work has changed. Shorter hospital stays, more patients-I can remember when my patients stayed a week after an appendectomy, some casually walking the halls in their bunny slippers. These days, patients come and go so fast; I rarely have time to sit at the bedside and offer comfort.


Angelo was my third admission in four hours. In his 80s, he wheezed audibly. The ED report was brisk, noting only that he was a nursing home resident sent over for evaluation. He had a do-not-resuscitate order at the nursing home but seemed to rally with a little oxygen, so he was bundled up and sent to the hospital. The ED nurse recognized what was happening and called quickly for a bed so he would have a quiet place to die.


Wearing light blue rayon pajamas, he was wheeled in on a gurney; I could see his ribs through the thin cloth of his shirt. Angelo's skin was as pale as his white hair and beard. He opened his eyes (dark brown, pleading) to look at me as he labored with his last breaths. I was moved by his desire to connect. This man would have a dignified death. I called for help to lift him gently into bed, aware of how few moments he had left. I settled him in with pillows and turned down the bright lights. I leaned over to whisper "It's okay, I'll stay with you." Once again, he opened his eyes to look at me. He took one last deep breath and died. In all, I spent about eight minutes with Angelo before his life ended.


This morning, I need the solitude of my garden, my refuge for a quarter of a century-the place I go to feel the sun and smell the earth. For many years, I grew only vegetables. When my boys were young, I preserved my crop in salsas, soups, and mixed canned vegetables. When my sons grew up and moved out, I began planting perennial flowers among the beets and onions. Honeysuckle, wisteria, and clematis vines now entwine the rustic trellises surrounding the periphery.


Digging my hands into the earth, I plant Angelo. I imagine who he was: a quiet man, perhaps one with a family somewhere across the ocean who had no idea that he died. I want to tell them he didn't die alone. I plant him across from the garlic bed I worked on when a father lost his 16-year-old son in a car accident. I plant him next to the young mother who fractured her hip turning over in bed because of her bone metastases. I plant Angelo amid the coreopsis, a tender perennial with delicate stems and fragile yellow petals.

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