Helen would RELY on me to walk with her THROUGH her struggle, but who would WALK with me?


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Shortly after leaving a long-term ICU/CCU job when a merger changed the philosophy of care at the Catholic hospital where I worked, I received a call from the Hospice manager of a local home health agency. I had been working for the agency per diem, and the manager asked if I would be interested in one of two full-time openings. I interviewed and was offered a job the same day. As time progressed for me in my new job, I became increasingly proficient in community nursing. I achieved certification in Hospice Nursing, and my confidence level soared.

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Then I encountered Helen, a 30-year-old mother of three young children referred by her oncologist for homecare. This would be a difficult case, the nurse at the physician's office explained, because Helen was not prepared to accept her terminal prognosis and her family supported her unrealistic curative goals.


Helen was a young mother and wife desperately clutching for normalcy. She maintained a determination to pursue further treatment and refused to consider that the end was near. In addition, other factors complicated Helen's case. She refused to allow other nurses or a social worker to visit. I explained that we usually shared cases to ensure that she had backup coverage if one of us were unavailable. When I tried to explore her specific objections, she simply stated she wanted only me to visit her.


Caring for Helen alone, I found myself sinking into a spiritual void. I felt isolated without the assistance of my colleagues. Furthermore, although she was dying, Helen informed me she did not want to discuss any "God stuff." Desperate, I turned to Jesus as a last resort and began asking him to share this case with me, to help me care for Helen.


One day in a visit with Helen after a doctor's appointment, I asked what she and her physician had discussed. Helen stated that they had talked about future treatments. I carefully asked if her doctor had discussed her prognosis with her. She turned the question around and asked me, "What do you know about my condition?"


I gently replied that all treatment options had been exhausted and her cancer had spread despite treatment. Helen began to sob uncontrollably, and I too began to cry quietly. I told Helen how sorry I was. She embraced me and to my surprise told me it was okay because she could count on me for the truth.


Seeing how much Helen had come to depend on me, I felt inner panic. I suddenly realized Helen would rely on me to walk with her through her struggle, but who would walk with me? I considered myself ill-prepared to deal with what lay in store. My prayers took a different focus, and I began asking Jesus to show Helen who he is. Clearly, Helen did not have a personal relationship with Christ, and when he came to her, I knew she would not easily recognize him.


Eventually, I was on call for Helen twenty-four/seven because she continued her refusal to have any other staff. Although I became emotionally exhausted, I did not fail to pray many times daily for Helen.


One Saturday morning, I received a call from Helen's mother, Elaine, who was caring for Helen in her home. Helen was actively dying. When I arrived, it was clear Helen did not have adequate pain control. I assessed her and increased her morphine as ordered by her physician. Throughout the day, I attempted to provide adequate pain control for Helen and support for her family. Later in the afternoon, Helen seemed less restless, and I decided to go home for a break.


At home, I thought about the difficulty I'd encountered controlling Helen's pain and began to consider that her discomfort might be spiritual in nature as well as physical. In the midst of my contemplation, my pager went off-it was Elaine. When I returned the call, Elaine informed me that Helen had roused and told her mother she had "seen the High Priest." She asked her mother to get her a priest.


When I arrived, Elaine met me at the door. I asked her how Helen would have known that Jesus is referred to as the High Priest in the Bible. Elaine said, "She wouldn't have known-that's why I called you."


I silently thanked Jesus for answering my prayer. I realized that God had not only answered my prayer for Helen and her family, but that his answer was exactly what I had requested. Jesus had told Helen who he is (Hebrews 5:1-7), and furthermore that she needed a priest!!


Although God was helping Helen, he also sent me a message I could not rationalize or ignore: I needed to turn to Jesus as my first resort rather than my last. There could be no mistaking his presence. I grasped that my previous experiences had provided me with the tools I needed to help Helen. I understood that God wanted me to help Helen successfully make the transition into his arms.


When the priest arrived, I remained in the living room with Helen's father. Her mother and sisters went into the bedroom with the priest, and he began to pray over Helen. Suddenly, I heard Helen's voice shouting obscenities at the priest. There was a momentary hesitation, and then the prayers continued. I had never heard Helen use obscenities. Then I recalled similar experiences I had witnessed while working at the Catholic hospital with critically ill patients, and recognized that this was a spiritual battle. I knew why Jesus had chosen me for this case and knew what I had to do. I wasn't afraid because I knew his power would prevail.


I spent the remainder of that evening and night at Helen's bedside interceding to God on her behalf. I recited the rosary and said the prayers I had been given as tools so long ago to combat the devil. At 8 A.M., Helen completed her long difficult journey into God's waiting arms. Despite her difficult struggle, Helen died with a beautiful smile on her face. Her family was convinced she was at peace with God.


I left exhausted, thinking about the strength I had felt knowing God was with me. I thanked Jesus for preparing me through earlier experiences, for giving me the courage to remain open to his power, and for working through me to guide Helen home. I also thanked him for teaching me two important lessons. First, in the midst of turmoil, we usually cannot see how everything that happens in our lives is part of a larger plan orchestrated by God. Second, I learned that Jesus longs for me to go to him as my first resort, not my last.