by Shana Pedemonti
Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
The first time I met Tom was at my husband’s bedside. He was struggling to keep the lifeblood from leaving my husband’s body, working a double shift to ensure that adequate staffing was provided to care for him. Remembering back, I realize that Tom was one of those individuals whom I wanted so badly to be “when I grew up”. Despite the nursing staff’s efforts, my husband passed away only 24 hours later.
After several months of grieving and some serious life introspection, I returned to that same ICU. This time I would be working there. I was going to make a difference in someone’s life!
When I opened the doors to the ICU, I heard a distinctive laugh and saw Tom, and he recognized me immediately. After several weeks of dancing around the subject, we were finally left in the break room together. How was I, he wondered? We talked, we cried, we laughed …and on that day we became friends.
Our friendship continued through the years as we lived our respective lives. Tom was a nurse to look up to. He was a patient advocate, a mentor, a knowledgeable co-worker, and a good friend. He would always take the difficult patients, the undesirables, or the ones who were near death. Patients who were really sick were his specialty, and those patients were lucky to have him. Tom did whatever it took to care for these patients. And he never gave up.
One day, we got word from the unit manager that Tom was out sick. Several of us were concerned and tried to call Tom at home, but got no answer. We left messages and hoped that he would return our calls when he was feeling better. After about three months we finally heard something.
Late in May, we received an admission from the emergency room. The patient was suffering from pneumonia and was on a respirator. It was Tom and he was in bad shape. It was not the Tom we all knew, but a frail, emaciated man. His face and body only slightly resembled those of the Tom we knew.
Tom had no family near so they weren’t aware of his condition. His significant other spoke for him and opted to honor to Tom’s wishes until the very end. How could this man, this nurse, who had played such a large part of hundreds of patient’s lives, have become such a secluded, lonely patient himself? It became clear that Tom knew his prognosis long before he came through our doors as a patient. I hate to think that he felt he couldn’t share his illness with us for fear of stigma, judgment, or disappointment. Tom died the following week from complications related to pneumonia. That is what his death certificate said.
As a new nurse, I will always remember the lessons from Tom. The patient he was, but also of the model nurse he always will be to me.
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 2.