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Journal of Nursing

The Blessing: A Nurse’s Story

Mary Ellen Buechel Holbrook, RN, BA, TNCC, CPAN [email protected]


It was nine o’clock pm and I was walking briskly out of Recovery Room, knowing I had to be back the next day at six am. Though in a hurry, I purveyed the family waiting room to see if there were any visitors who needed help after the patient representative had gone home. I immediately noticed a lone woman with an anxious look on her face. As it turned out, her daughter-in-law had just been transferred to Intensive Care. Instead of waiting for one of our transporters, I decided to take her up myself. As we headed down the hall, she stated: “I bet you’re trying to leave, aren't you? I affirmed her observation. I added that, it was quite all right. We arrived at the particular ICU where her daughter-in-law was transferred, and upon talking with the patient’s RN, I was able to let her in right away. She turned to me and said: "Thank you; you will be blessed."

The next day, on my way home after my day shift, I noticed a voice mail from my sister in Rochester, New York. I had just been back about a week after visiting our mother for her ninety-sixth Birthday. She suffered a TIA during her party, so noticing the voicemail from my sister, gave me an uneasy feeling. I had to pull off the road as I listened to her message; “Mom had a stroke; she’s in the hospital and the Neurologist said it doesn’t look good.” My mind darted back to the words I had heard the night before as I cried out with angry cynicism; "This is a blessing?"

The following day I flew up to Rochester and on the flight up I thought of how many times I had taught the stroke segment in A.C.L.S. classes. The video had a happy ending; but my mother's stroke was not witnessed, so that ending wasn't going to be hers.

My brother picked me up from the airport and soon we arrived at the hospital. I walked into my mom's room and saw my mother as I had never seen her before. Her usual bright smile was replaced with a look of emptiness. All at once the cruel reality of the signs and symptoms of a fresh stroke were there, but I wasn't the instructor, I was just a family member. My mom seemed to recognize me, and I fought back tears as I told her how much I loved her. Then one of the nurses came in to check her vital signs. She smiled warmly and slowly told my mom what she was doing, all the time looking directly at her. Over the next five days, my mom made unexpected progress, as she gained limited use of her right side and began to speak a few words, slowly and almost painfully. With each milestone, it seemed the nurses and aides were almost as excited as we were. Everyone, without exception, treated my mom with kindness and compassion. Every time my mom was turned or assisted to the recliner, I quickly assessed the skin integrity of her back. Each time, I smiled as I noted the absence of even a trace of skin breakdown. I think the event that will stay in my memory forever, occurred on my mom’s fourth day. It was time to repeat the swallowing study to assess if my mom could start eating. All four of us siblings hung together in the waiting room, nervous, our eyes shifting constantly to the door of 2607, anticipating and desperately hoping for good news. As her door opened, the therapist came out with a smile so radiant; we instantly knew she had good news, and we collectively breathed a sigh of relief. Five days after her stroke, my mom was ready for transfer to a rehabilitation facility, and I was headed back down South. With a very heavy heart, I said goodbye to my mom and the staff from the Stroke Unit.

On the way back home, I had plenty of time to think about my own experiences as a Recovery Room nurse. I could envision the smiles on so many of the faces of our patients as they leave our unit. Many of our patients and their families take our hand and hug us as they are headed out the door. I was also reminded of the fact that we as health care givers have a certain power and a responsibility. We can add to the stress of a patient's hospital experience, or we can be the one ray of sunshine that leaves a smile on their face.

Truly, there will always be the pain of knowing that my mom had a stroke, but my memories will always be tempered by the thoughtful care she received on that stroke unit. I have since reflected on the words of gratitude spoken to me a week earlier by the visitor I took to the ICU. Yes, I was blessed; it wasn't a material one, but the kind that will warm my heart forever.

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