1. Geiter, Henry B. Jr. RN, CCRN

Article Content

Arriving fresh from the classroom to our unit, Auri was one of several new critical care nurses and the only LPN in the group. I figured that she could learn the most from my experience-I'd been a nurse for about 12 years. I decided to go out of my way to help mentor her, never suspecting how she'd wind up mentoring me.


In those first days in the unit, Auri came to me often with questions, so I frequently witnessed the compassionate way she cared for her patients. One of her patients, Carla, was unresponsive and terminally ill. All alone in the world, she had no living family or friends to come visit or even check on her. When we were charting one day, Auri remarked on how sad it would be if Carla died alone, with no one knowing or caring that she'd died.


Later that evening, while walking through the unit, I noticed Auri at Carla's side. Curiosity got the better of me and I stepped into the room. Auri was holding Carla's hand and softly whispering to her, "You are going to be missed."


I looked at the monitor and realized that Carla didn't have much longer. As cynical as I'd become in those days, I was moved by Auri's genuine compassion. I quietly left the room so I wouldn't disturb the serene moment.


These kinds of events became almost commonplace while I worked with Auri. Once she was taking care of a young mother who'd recently been extubated and desperately wanted to see her 3-year-old son. We have strict visitation rules that ban young children from the ICU. So I was startled to see Auri whisper something to the patient's husband and set her plan into motion. With the child in his arms, the husband walked briskly by me toward his wife's room-and I let him go. The age restriction for visitors was being shattered before my eyes, but I'd learned not to argue policy with Auri when a patient's needs were involved. She'd argue that rules were good for patients most of the time, but what's the harm in breaking a few rules if no one gets hurt and the patient or family benefits?


I watched from the nurses' station as the little boy fell into his mother's arms and yelled in the most life-affirming voice, "Mommy!!" Tears welled up in my eyes and I had to walk away to compose myself.


The amazing thing was that Auri didn't seem to think about how to be compassionate or understanding; she just was. And she had an endless source of compassion to share in even the most challenging situations. Over time, I started making assignments to match Auri with patients who needed her type of caring.


One day I found myself asking the relatives of a dying patient about the patient's life. They smiled and laughed through their tears as they told stories of love, laughter, and life. Another day, I encouraged a young man to hold his dying grandfather's hand. I lowered the side rail and moved the patient to one side so that his frail wife could kiss his cheek from her wheelchair.


I didn't realize that Auri had been watching from across the unit. When I turned to leave the room, she gave me a thumbs-up. She was applauding my patient care-not the clinical side but the human side.


Auri works in the ED now, pursuing her dream of caring for trauma patients and working on a trauma helicopter. She recently earned her RN license. Although I don't see her every day, the lessons she taught stay with me. She reminded me of a nurse I'd known 10 years ago who had the same burning passion for nursing, love of life, and compassion for the dying. Over the years I'd lost touch with him, even though I saw him in the mirror every day. Auri rekindled my spirit, chiseled the cynicism from my hardened heart, and showed me how being a nurse could feed my soul.