Their story is our story.

Martin’s last wish

Beneath his rough exterior, Martin was a big softie: newly fragile and afraid of losing control over his body as leukemia and the treatments to fight it, took their toll.

Just days after his isolation for tuberculosis, Martin’s oxygen needs increased, his fever increased and his blood counts dropped. While he could still be part of the decision, we prepared a “do not resuscitate” order. Martin couldn’t rest. He was anxious, in pain and unable to eat. Music, massage and medication changes offered little relief.

He sat day and night in a recliner chair. As a nurse, I felt helpless. We all did. He was slipping away. His once-large frame had become frail. He couldn’t stand, even with his two sons assisting him. Martin’s wife, Lori, called their family to the hospital. I prayed that night for Martin and for peace for him and his family.

When I returned to work Sunday morning, Martin was ashen, anxious and adamant he was going home. We couldn’t relieve his pain or his anxiety. I felt he was dying. We made every effort to comply with his request to go home. At each turn though, options to transport him home to die closed.

“Could he just go outside?” I wondered. This was a man who had lived much of his life outdoors. Maybe that would make a difference.

I had heard the critical care unit nurses took one of their patients outside to die. If we could get Martin outside, maybe he would be less anxious. His family wouldn’t have to be masked for TB isolation. It was warm. Perhaps we could use Lynn’s Garden. I asked Lori. She brightened. Martin wanted to go outside. His sons wanted it, too.

A whole team of us went to work to make this happen for Martin and his family. Lynn’s garden would work. It was close to the chapel. We could ensure privacy by posting signs and pulling curtains in patient rooms that overlooked the garden. The was warm and shade was available.

We got food coupons from the cafeteria for the family. Pastoral care chaplain would stay with the family as long as they wished. A respiratory therapist would check on Martin periodically. We gave the family a phone with a list of numbers in case they needed any of us. The family agreed if Martin died in Lynn’s Garden, it was OK. If they wanted to bring him back to his room they could.

My last memory of Martin is of him and his wife, head-to-head in Lynn’s Garden. Martin was reclining in the cardiac chair, restful. He wasn’t aware of me. He looked at peace. His whole family was with him. That was at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon. That evening, a full moon rose, and I believe with it Martin’s spirit soared to heaven. He was finally at peace with his family’s love around him.

Martin’s death, in such a peaceful setting outside with his family—private yet not without access to our care—could not have been possible without the “can do” of the healing health care philosophy.

Date: December 7, 2017