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Sunshine for Susan

  • Author: Susan
  • Date Submitted: Mar 3, 2023
  • Category: Care Partner Stories

"Susan came to the ICU before Christmas. Since her admission, care partners have witnessed her inner strength, positive attitude, sense of humor, and overall resiliency."

Parrish Medical Center ICU Registered Nurse, Caroline recently shared:

Susan came to the ICU before Christmas. Since her admission, care partners have witnessed her inner strength, positive attitude, sense of humor, and overall resiliency. I have dedicated my time with Susan to care for her medically but also to learn about the person she is. I feel a bond with her and her family. I know them by name, what they like to do for fun, the movies they watch, and the vacations they had planned.

I ask Susan at the beginning of every shift, “What can we do to make today a good one?” I imagine how it would feel to look at ceiling tiles in a hospital room for months. Susan was losing the twinkle in her eyes. She no longer did her little "dance" of enthusiasm (a bed wiggle) when her favorite people entered the room, instead she began to close her eyes – the only way a bed-bound person can ‘shut the door’. She told her sister she wasn't getting better. She wasn't sleeping. She was sinking into a deep depression.

She had a tracheostomy, which seemed to signify to her that she was doing worse. I had to do something so I told her that if we could work to get her off the ventilator and on a trach collar, I would find a way to take her outside. Her eyes lit up, and she did her ‘dance’. As the weeks passed, I saw her inching toward a goal a million miles ahead. She didn't have her sparkle back, but she was trying. I believed in her and began planning how to get her outdoors. She was too weak to sit in a wheelchair and had a wound vac making it a more complicated endeavor. We needed to find a way to get an ICU bed outside.

Taking her through the ER was not an option because of potential exposure to contagions. The front door was out of the question for obvious reasons. Respiratory Therapist, Lisa Tristan, overheard one of my conversations with Susan and had the idea of using the Cath Lab entrance. It was the weekend and perfect access to the outside; complete with wide doors and privacy. I asked Susan if she wanted to go outside, feel the wind, and look at the sky. She smiled and did her ‘dance’. Her daughter, Jaime, squealed, not able to contain her excitement!

Upon getting Edwin Loftin's approval, we set our plan in motion. The 45 minutes it took to prepare for the trip felt like wrapping Christmas presents! House Supervisor, David Copley, two students, Lisa, Susan and I made our way downstairs and out the doors. We stood in the sunshine, letting Susan take in the world that was still on its axis when hers was not. I felt overcome by emotion watching my patient who had become my friend enjoy the things I took for granted – wind, sun, clouds, trees and birds singing joyfully. We were blinking back happy tears while Susan’s eyes regained their sparkle. I felt restored in a way I hadn't felt since before COVID. We were acknowledging Susan’s human spirit and, in turn, our own.

Susan slept peacefully the rest of the day. I fulfilled a promise to my friend with the help of my amazing co-workers, Lisa Tristan, David Copley, Ashly Cumbo, RN, Nurse Technician, Anna Bahr and Edwin Loftin. I'm especially grateful that, even before asking, I knew I would have Edwin’s full support.

We don't always get the outcomes we hope for in health care, but we can always treat one another with compassionate empathy. As it turns out, what we did for Susan actually did more for us.