Editor’s Note: Guest blogger and nurse Emily Colonna reflects on a patient she accompanied at Christiana Hospital, where she was challenged to find God’s presence and strength even in the face of tragedy.
I am a nurse at a local hospital in the intensive care unit. I graduated last spring from Neumann University, a Franciscan school in Pennsylvania. Being surrounded by a community dedicated to loving creation and serving God through the teachings of the Gospels greatly impacted my nursing practice. I place the respect and wellbeing of the patient above all else and find comfort in serving God through providing excellent patient care.
All my patients hold a special place in my heart, but there are always those who stand out. Jonas* was one such patient. He had a condition which caused him to experience “locked in.” This means the patient could not physically respond, but was consciously aware. You learn in nursing school to reflect on the situation and explore your feelings, and then compartmentalize so you can provide the best care possible. However, this patient presented difficulty with that task. When you looked at Jonas, you could feel his yearning to express himself, but he did not have the means to do so. His family was unconditionally devoted to him. The amount of love surrounding Jonas could be felt throughout the unit. He was one of the patients that made it difficult to compartmentalize, because you grew to care about him and his family, and those emotions would follow you home.
So, I prayed.
After meeting the family, I realized I was going to need a lot of faith and spiritual strength. The children were young and the wife was distraught. When I looked into the patient’s eyes, I could see the light of his soul even though he had no response capabilities. My goal was to be present physically and emotionally for the patient and family, while providing care. I put on relaxing music, kept his lights and noises to a minimum, offered comfort, and consulted a priest.
Medically, the patient began to take a turn for the worst. A family meeting was held and the family decided to transition to comfort care. Listening to the care team tell the family there was nothing more that could be done, and empathizing with the family, it took everything for me to hold back tears. All I could think of was the trials this family has been through so far and how these children were going to have to grow up without a father.
For a moment, I was angry with God. After the meeting, I went into the storage room to gather myself. I cried and I prayed. I ask for strength to provide the best care I could to this family and to put aside my own emotions to be present for them. I realized I have so much to be grateful for, and these people need me to be there for them in this moment.
God answered my prayers.
We provided pain control and comfort and transitioned the patient to hospice, where he passed peacefully.
I learned a great amount about myself and faith during this journey. God provided me with the strength to be present and supportive of others, to comfort them during one of the most difficult experiences of their lives. These lessons have followed me throughout not only my nursing journey, but my faith journey. My faith grew immensely. I called on God for strength and he provided me with the means to be present for Jonas and his family. I learned that I am strong enough, as a nurse and as a Franciscan, to provide medical care and spiritual comfort to others during trying life experiences. But, most importantly, I learned that when I doubt my own capabilities, God is there to support me so that I may nurture others.
Reflection Question: How has your faith been tested recently? How can you draw upon your faith and God’s strength to be present to someone around you in need?
*Name of the patient has been changed to respect their identity.