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Journal of Nursing

Nursing School Angel

Kelly Fulghum, RN [email protected]


In my extensive career as an Intensive care nurse I have met many patients, but the patient that made the most impact on my career was not a patient on this unit. That patient was Annie who was my first patient in nursing school.

It was our first day of clinical and my entire class was so nervous. Sensing this our instructor co-assigned us with a partner to help relieve some of our anxiety. I was partnered with “Joanne”. When we entered Annie’s room I was profoundly impacted by her appearance. She was skeletal, balding and not answering us. Annie was a breast cancer patient and I had never seen a cancer patient before or for that matter any patient. Annie was comfort care and on a morphine drip. She was unresponsive at this time. We were beside ourselves because our assigned task for the day was to bathe Annie and give her new linens. We hemmed and hawed for a while trying to figure out what we needed to do first. Eventually we got the linens, the water bucket, soaps and lotions out and began her bathe. One of us holding up a limb and the other washing it as gently as we could. Annie’s bath took us over an hour to complete.

After we completed Annie’s bath we didn’t know what else to do, so we sat down, one on each side and held her hand. At first we did not know what to talk about, but slowly it got easier. We talked about ourselves, school, our families, and that we were sorry that she was doing so poorly. After sitting with her for a while we realized that she had no visitors. So we just continued to sit with her and let her know that someone was there. Occasionally Annie would open her eyes in slits and we believed that she knew we were there and that she could hear our voices.

About an hour before our clinical ended our instructor came to talk with us and noticed that Annie’s breathing had changed since our arrival to the floor. She told us that Annie may pass before we left that day. We went out to the nurse’s station to see if there was a list of contact numbers for Annie’s family but there were no family members listed. We were appalled. It was terrifying that Annie may die in front of us but we were more scared that she may die alone. We continued to hold her hand and talked with her, but this time we told her that it was ok to go and that we would be with her.

Annie did pass that day, just prior to us leaving clinical that afternoon. Our instructor insisted that we do post mortem care as we needed to follow our assignment all the way through. The hardest part of that was covering her face with the sheet. I had to leave the room, I was beside myself. Joanne and my instructor tried to console me but I just continued to cry. Clinical was on a Friday and by the end of that night I told myself that I would never go back. I was not cut out for nursing and that on Monday morning I was going to quit school. But over the weekend I began to realize something. That I had learned from Annie. Annie taught me early in my career about life and death. I realized that as sad and horrible as I felt about her passing, she was no longer suffering and that she was in a better place. That Joanne and I had helped her to be more comfortable that day, and even though we were not family there was someone there to hold her hand and that we cared about her. Annie has helped me in one of the hardest aspects of my career, discussing advanced directives and comfort care with my patients and their families. I think of her every time that I have to do this and it helps to make my job a little easier when dealing with these situations.

Our next clinical was the following week, our instructor pulled us aside and told us what a great job that we had done with Annie. She presented us both with angel pins and told us that we were Annie’s angels. It was very emotional. However, I told my instructor what Annie meant to me and told her that I was not her angel but she was my nursing school angel.

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