A Visiting Nurse Pays a Visit

One of my patients broke his leg a few weeks ago and ended up going to short-term rehab. He has been a favorite of mine. Each week I’ve checked his vital signs and blood sugar, listened to his heart and lungs, made sure he had no problems with his medications, and checked to make sure he is getting his Meals on Wheels. At 89, he was content to sit in his recliner all day. He looked forward to receiving communion each week from a volunteer that stopped at his apartment in a low-income senior housing building. Although he is nearly blind, he found comfort from having photos of his family on a wall near his chair. He’d tell me stories of his brother who was killed in WWII. There was a photo of his mother who raised seven children alone. He always talked of her with reverence. He liked our visits and told me that it always made him feel better when I came to see him. He always asked how my family was. I always asked about his family. He asked me if I thought I would be able to come to his 90th birthday party. No way would I miss it I told him.

Yesterday I decided to stop at the facility where he was receiving short-term rehab. Although it isn’t part of my job, I like to check in on my patients when they have gone into the hospital or rehab. When I walked into his room, I expected to see him sitting up in a wheelchair with his his leg elevated. I thought he would tell me how they never keep the room warm enough. Instead I found a man that looked much different from the one I knew. In fact, I walked back out of the room to check the name on the door to make sure I was in the right room. My patient was asleep. Mats were on the floor next to his bed which I assumed was to protect him in case he fell. As I stood next to his bed, I saw that his face was drooped on one side. I called to him but he was barely arousable. He’d try to open his eyes but couldn’t. His hands flailed randomly. I took hold of one hand and sat quietly next to him. His face was drawn. He had lost a lot of weight since I last saw him. Since I hadn’t had any reports about him, I thought perhaps that he had been heavily sedated or that he had stroke since I last saw him.

I gave him a kiss on his old bald head and went out to the nurse’s station to ask his nurse how he was doing. When I asked when he had a stroke, she told me that he hadn’t had a stroke. I told her about the facial droop, the difficulty in arousing him, the random movements of his arms. A look of concern crossed her face. She turned to a doctor standing near-by and asked her to come check my patient. Suddenly about four people surrounded his bed, checking his blood pressure, putting oxygen on him, calling to him, and telling me that this was all new. An ambulance was called for and off he went to the local hospital for treatment of a new stroke.

As for me, I walked out to my car with a heavy heart. I sat for awhile in my car thinking about him, thinking about the two years I saw him every week, thinking about him now going off to the hospital. I don’t think there will be a 90th birthday party. I doubt I will see him again. Good-bye dear man.

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