Monday, January 16, 2012

Wishes do come true...

On Saturday, a wish came true.  It wasn't one of the usual ones...
wishes of fame, fortune, health or even time.  It was certainly a wish of a different kind but a beautiful granted wish...

As you all know, I spend alot of my time with folks that have been told that they are on their way out.  They have been told to get everything ready for when they are gone.  Sometimes, when I meet them, they are close to that time and the only thing that can be done is pain control, relieving symptoms and trying to give them a sense of peace.  But sometimes, I get to care for them "early" in the process and the symptoms are controlled and the life they are living is pure quality.  Are there times when the days aren't perfect...sure...but who's are, even when you aren't in the last of them?

This is a story of a perfect day and a wish granted.   I have the privelege of caring for an older woman who spent most of her life on a farm, tending to her family and the fields.  Week after week, in between talking about her aches and pains, her appetite and what else is going on, she tells me the stories of the farm, the work and the John Deere Tractor that she drove.  Visit after visit, she would tell her granddaughter that she would like some coffee in her "Johnny" mug.  When her granddaughter would put it on the end table, she would point to the mug with a gleam in her eye and say, "you know, I drove that Johnny, up and down the fields" and begin to tell her story.  When the rest of the team would visit her, they would hear the same stories too.  It was no secret that driving that "Johnny" symbolized a full and wonderful life when she was younger. 

One month turned into two and Thanksgiving passed and her family was happy to have her at the table.  The day after, the Christmas tree was standing in the livingroom and she recieved a beautiful John Deere tractor ornament.  It was on the tree for a short time but then it was taken off so it wouldn't break.  Her granddaughter and I dreamed of her being able to drive a tractor again.  "Wouldn't that be great if Gram could get a tractor ride again?  She would love it."  Team members mentioned it and the powers that be were checking into it and then it faded away...or so I thought.

Christmas came and went, a John Deere puzzle sat on the table from a neighbor, a John Deere cookie jar filled with cookies but no real tractor ride at this point.  "It would be great" her granddaughter told me, "but it will be okay if it doesn't happen." 

In the meantime, as in all my patients eventually...she started fading.   She started to have more bad days and more days when she needed to take more pain meds.  She still was the most pleasant, fiesty lady and I still heard the stories every visit.  Even on her bad days, she sipped coffee out of her "Johnny" mug and remembered the good days on the tractor.

Last week, I got an email from the social workers/grief counselors that they have a gentleman that would love to bring a tractor up for my patient to drive...figure out what day and lets do it.  We planned it for Friday afternoon.  I was so excited and could not believe that it was going to happen.  She was going to get to drive her "Johnny"!

The phone rang on Friday and it was her granddaughter..."Gram doesn't feel good today at all."  Disappointed, the gentleman was called and the tractor ride was cancelled but he said, " I would love to bring it up any time, just call me and let me know".  That afternoon, I went for my visit and it was clear that Gram did not feel well.  She was not herself and had more pain.  Her granddaughter and I reviewed the plan for comfort and for the end.  We wondered aloud if we had gotten the gift of the tractor ride too late and with tears in our eyes, hoped for the best.   As she has been doing since her grandmother moved in, she loved her up, medicated her for the pain, put her to bed and checked on her.  At around 5:30 that evening, I got a text that she had woken up feeling much better and was her old self...Oh and he is bringing up the tractor at 11:30 tommorrow.

I have heard of saints and good samaritans...but this goes way beyond that.  This man, whom none of us even know, was going to put a giant John Deere tractor on a trailer pulled by a dump truck and bring it to her house where he can let her drive it and he gets nothing in return...nothing?  Wow, I was and am humbled.

On Saturday, I was a little early, so I waited in the elementary school parking lot to waste some time.  I looked up and a huge dump truck drove by pulling a brand new, bright green John Deere tractor.  I followed him to the house, and as he figured out where to put it, I ran in.  Standing there was Gram, a little overwhelmed with the attention but ready to see her "Johnny".  Her granddaughter put a lovely sweater on her and a crown on her head.  She looked beautiful and I could imagine her thinking about the days when she ran out and hopped in the tractor to get some fields plowed before weather came in.  It was an amazing moment.

I ran outside, found the gentleman that brought the tractor and ran into his arms...."Thanks so much for doing this, I'm the nurse, Terry and you don't know how much she is going to appreciate this."    He asked if he should drive it up to the door so she didn't have far to walk and I said, "that would be great."

Inside, Gram was being prepared for her wish.  Her coat was put on and zipped, she was helped down the stairs and out she came to see the "Johnny".

Her grandson in law lifted her gently into the cab and off she went.  She drove that thing around the neighborhood for a good half hour telling stories of the good old days and her tractor driving.  It did my heart good. 

I know that I am going on and on with this post but it was one, if not the most rewarding moments in my nursing career.  I can't explain how exciting it was to have this wish come true and to watch the face of my sweet patient when she got to be in the tractor again.  Her smile was wide and when I could look at her through the veil of happy tears, she looked 20 again driving around the fields. 

This is why I do what I do...it's not that I like providing hospice care, because if I had my wish, I would take away all the pain and grief of losing a loved one.  But I can't.  What I can do is give dignity, comfort and love to a person and family that is going through this difficult time.  I can empower them to make decisions that they wish they didn't have to, and I can hold their hand and tell them they are not alone.  In return, I get to be part of a time that is precious...sometimes the best and of course, the worst.  So, I guess when people ask me at parties "What kind of nursing do you do?" and I think...here goes...I can think of the Gram and the tractor and start there!

Sometimes wishes do come true!
We'll tawk tommorrow,
I love you all,


Higgins' Magic said...

Hey Terry, I'm inspired by your story of a Granny and her Johnny. I feel like you really hit the nail on the head when you talked about the quality of life and living the best life you can. I also think this was a gift for you because January can be a bit blue and you were feeling tired. Keep writing! Teresa

Ms. Moon said...

Terry, it is one of the joys of my life that I have known you. Do know you.
When my time comes, I want you there.
I love you always.

Birdie said...

This story is incredible. Have you thought about sending it to the Chicken Soup for the Soul?

People often ask me why I love working in palliative care and this story is a perfect example. It is a time when everyone else wants to run away and avoid the person in the last stages of living. There is so much more to be done whether it is the last months, hours or even minutes. It is a precious time. Being a part of it is an honour that is sacred.

Thanks for your story. :-)

Elizabeth said...

What an awesome, awesome story. Thank you for sharing it with us. Thank you for doing what you do.

Heather Aberg said...

Just Wonderful! You touch so many people in your life, Terry! Thank you from the many people who have met you over the years!

Akannie said...

Terry--this story brought tears to my eyes..I live out here in farm country and am at that stage of life where I am seeing lots of elderley people who have farmed all their lives wind up in nursing homes and in Hospice care...

The world is a beautiful place...

Cynthia said...

Well...I am now bawling...but that is a good thing. What an amazing story. You claimed that you went on and on, but I could have read this story all day long. Thank you so much for posting this, it made my Monday a glorious day!