Life Lesson

Shawna L Swetech, RN

Spring 2006 - Volume 10 Number 1

7:15 am. I am sitting at the nurse's station, getting report on my group of patients for the shift. Oh, no--this one is going to be a challenge: 55-year-old male, admitted with Stage IV decubitus ulcer and septicemia. History: paraplegic x23 years from a gunshot wound to the spine, with subsequent bilateral AKA, multiple surgeries, and colon cancer two years ago with colostomy placement. He has a suprapubic catheter, triple lumen central line catheter, extensive Q shift dressing changes, and is on bed rest in supine position only. God, how awful. I can't imagine any quality of life worth waking up to, day in and day out, after all of that. Life is hard enough as it is. Now, the poor soul has weeks of around-the-clock antibiotics and more surgery to deal with.

8:15 am. I'm at the door to his room now, initial assessment time. Knock, knock, I say as I peek around the curtain, clipboard clutched against my chest. There, floating atop the fluid air mattress, is the upper half of a body: the entire lower portion of the bed is empty. I expect to see a man with a sad, broken spirit--or at least someone with a chronic, sour disposition, rightfully earned from all those years of misery. But no. An infectious smile quickly spreads across his face when he sees me. In fact, he exudes a palpable joy that radiates into the room like a warm light. I am stunned.

This man is not just my patient; today, he is my teacher.


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