National Nurses Week is celebrated May 6 through 12, Florence Nightengale’s birthday, and is a way to raise awareness of the important role nurses play in society. As a University of Virginia nursing alum, I do always appreciate the kind words and thanks I receive during this recognition week, but there is one gift I received, 18 years ago from one of my patients at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, that I will never forget.
It was during my first year as a new graduate Registered Nurse that I first encountered Jennifer*. I was working in Gynecology/Oncology, and due to the nature of gynecologic cancers, we often became quite close with the patients who required longer stays. Jennifer was one of those patients. She was only in her thirties, had a young son, but was suffering from advanced cervical cancer and the pain that came with it. We developed a positive relationship and discovered we shared a similar faith in God.
In order to keep her mind off of the pain she was constantly in despite significant pain control measures, Jennifer would draw beautiful, detailed colored pencil drawings. One day, she asked me if she could draw something for me and asked me to tell her what I would like.
Having been a Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sister at U.Va., the iris was my favorite flower – and still is – so that is what I asked for.
Sometime later, Jennifer unveiled what she drew for me in her pain and discomfort –it was breathtaking. She had drawn the iris I requested but added a beautiful butterfly, which is a symbol of life and rebirth.
On the back, she wrote this to me: “To my dear spiritual friend, who’s there to help nurse me back to health – may the God of your hope so fill you with all joy and grace in believing through the experience of your faith that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound and be overflowing with hope. Christa, that is my wish for you always!”
Jennifer, as I ponder those words you wrote, while struggling with pain and illness, this is my time to thank you – thank you for giving me the honor to care for you in your time of need. Thank you for providing me this daily reminder of the honor and privilege it is to be a nurse. I will never forget you.
Christa Hartch, BSN ‘97 is a professor of nursing at Norwalk Community College and resides in Greenwich, Connecticut with her family.
*name changed to maintain patient confidentiality
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