"Alvin David, B.S.N., RN-BC, wrote this exemplar as part of his promotion to clinical nurse 3. I will let his words do the talking, as they reveal his true essence as a nurse, colleague, preceptor, friend, father, husband and extraordinary healer," wrote Margie McDonald, M.S.N., RN, CBCN of Memorial Sloan Kettering Monmouth.
During my first year as a nurse, a patient once told me, “Let’s worry about today, because tomorrow is another day,” a phrase I try to live by. It was from those simple words that I understood that things in life can be overwhelming, and when they are, just plant your feet, square your shoulders and take it one day at a time.
As a registered nurse, I am fortunate to care for people of different cultures, attitudes and experiences. There are some who leave a lasting impression. D.J. was diagnosed with non-small cell lung carcinoma and embarked on his fight with cancer with us. On his first day of chemotherapy, I was the nurse assigned to administer treatment. It was my duty and responsibility to ensure that he was educated and comfortable. I entered his room with a big smile and introduced myself as his nurse for the day. It was then that our journey together began. “Will you be giving me my poison?” was the first thing he asked. I pulled up a chair next to him and said, “You must have questions, and I promise I won’t start until I answer them to your satisfaction.” His questions regarded how the treatment would be given and how long it would take, potential side effects and how he should care for himself while undergoing treatment. I started to earn his trust, and he developed confidence that I was fighting alongside him. After that day, D.J. always requested that I be his nurse, and whenever I could, I gladly obliged.
Every visit, he had stories to tell — stories about his passion for eating, sailing or just living life. In turn, he listened to my stories about my life, marriage and kids, and he often gave me advice. He kept a positive attitude and was always thankful for his care. Even on days when he did not feel well, he managed to fight and bring up a smile.
Alvin David, B.S.N., RN-BC, and Margie McDonald, M.S.N., RN, CBCN. Photos by Allison Pense.
D.J.’s final treatment day arrived. With a happy look on his face, he told me his scans were clean. He and his wife gave us a big cake to celebrate and show their appreciation. We shook hands, gave each other a hug, wished each other the best of luck and hoped that one day we would see each other in passing.
A few months later, I was working in verification and came across D.J.’s chart. His cancer had returned and was more aggressive. Chills went down my spine and anxiety began to creep in as I asked myself, “What will I say if I see him? How will I react?”
One day, I received a note stating that a patient had requested me as his nurse. It was my old friend D.J. It was different this time around, as he looked weak and frail. For the first time, I saw him sitting in a wheelchair, with barely the energy to function. He told me his situation did not look good, as his cancer had spread to his brain. For the first time in my career, I felt like I had failed my patient. I told him that I wished I could have done more to help and that I was sorry he was back. D.J. looked me in the eye and said, “It’s OK. It’s not your fault. Let’s take it one day at a time.”
Weeks passed, with D.J. on and off treatment due to symptoms and a decline in health status. One day, he arrived for a simple hydration appointment and looked weaker than ever. I was not his nurse that day, but I stopped by his room to give him my regards. His wife followed me out and spoke to me as tears ran down her face. She told me that I was his favorite nurse and that it was because of me that he kept fighting. She told me how he loved that I was able to get his IV in one shot and always walked in the room with a smile on my face. She told me that I gave him a sense of comfort and that he trusted me.
At the end of his treatment, I was called into their room. In a weak voice, barely keeping his breath, D.J. said to me, “If you don’t see me again, I just want to say thanks for everything.” Somehow, I knew this would be the last time I saw him. In a familiar scene, I shook his hand and gave him a hug. I wished him well and told him to take it easy and just take it one day at a time. I have not seen him since then, nor have I heard any news. I pray that he is no longer suffering.
My experience with D.J. has allowed me to evolve as a person and a professional nurse. Throughout my career, I developed a wall that allowed me to suppress my feelings toward my patients. I believed that if I did not allow myself to get close, it would be easier to keep moving.
After caring for D.J., I learned that opening myself to my patients will allow me to have closure when the battle is over. It serves as a reminder that our ability to empathize is what makes us human. Nursing is a profession that goes beyond inserting IVs or hanging lines; it is one that can affect the lives of many. We must fight for our patients, be their advocates and show them they are not alone. I will never forget D.J., for my experience with him has made me appreciate my blessings just a bit more. It is true that we cannot control everything around us, but no matter what happens, we can all benefit from taking it one day at a time.