Sunday, November 15, 2009


On my way to work, I pass by an old Tudor style house. Its backyard can be seen from the train tracks and each evening regardless of the weather, there were festive lights casting a lovely glow to the entire house. Every time I had a night shift during the summer, I would pass by that house and I would see a giant barbecue, a myriad of guests, all sorts of flowers in stunning colours and of course all those lights. Being somewhat of a recluse, I always wondered who would have the energy to entertain so many guests so frequently. In winter, the backyard lights cast a beautiful amber glow on the snow and it made me want to befriend that person over a great cup of hot chocolate. There was something about that house that instantly made me feel happier. I know I have dreamed about that house many times.

Last week, was a little different. I was on the train daydreaming and staring out the window but the lights weren’t on. In fact, had I not known about the house previously, I would have never thought to look for it. Thinking that electricity bills finally got the better of the owner, I let my thoughts wander aimlessly once more until I reached my stop. By then, I had forgotten all about the house and started to worry more about my imminent future – namely what kind of department would I be walking into.

As usual, I purchased my latte and walked over to my assigned area to get asked, “Ready for report?”

“Sure”, I replied.

“For now, you only have one patient. She’s a 66 year old woman presenting with diffuse CP, SOBOE x2 days and mild 1+ pitting edema in the ankles with no relief from nitro. Positive trops, no significant ECG changes from previous visits, she’s a bit more comfortable with morphine. Cardiology is consulting on her now so you get to wait for their orders. She really doesn’t want to stay here because she’s convinced she won’t make it out of here so you get to deal with that. Family will be here in a little while. Any questions?”

“No, I’m fine. I’ll get the rest from the chart. Good night”.


I hung around the nursing station for a while savoring my latte while I looked over her labs. Eventually the patient was admitted and I finally got a chance to talk to her. From the minute I walked into her room, I felt as if I had known her all my life. She reminded me of so many people in family that I haven’t spoken to in months just because life gets in the way. Listening to her speak was effortless. I was simply spell bound by her eloquence, charm and her ability to describe the texture of a life that I could not possibly know. I lost track of time as she told me about how she managed to escape Afghanistan in the early 80s, made her way to Pakistan and eventually into California before coming to Canada and resuming her career as a teacher. She paid a heavy price for leaving – she lost three of her four children, her parents and many of her friends. Once she managed to buy a house and provide for her daughter, she started to feel as if she spent her days struggling against the relentless waves of guilt at having survived while having to watch too many of her loved ones fail and pay with their lives. She thought about killing herself – overdosing, throwing herself on the train tracks, jumping from a building – anything that would get the job done but ultimately she could not sacrifice her daughter’s well being to appease her own dark desire for escape. She sought help for her depression and eventually started to befriend others in her community and reestablish roots in Canada. Her daughter grew up, fell in love, married the man of her dreams and had two children who were lavished with love by everyone in the family. She said that for as long as she could, she always wanted her family and friends near her because at any moment, all of the newfound beauty in her world could be snatched away. She did not want to stay in the hospital and have her troponins and ‘lytes measured on a tele floor because she had a house whose backyard needed a new string of lights so she could once more take in the sights and sounds of her loved ones enjoying a delicious meal under their glow.

And that’s when it dawned on me that she owned the house that captured my imagination for so long. I wanted so badly to tell her what seeing her house everyday meant to me – how just for an instant, I was able to let go of my worries completely and just admire the beauty and warmth of her house and its spirit. But as it happens, I was slammed with two new patients back to back who needed a whole lot of work done. When they were discharged, the influx of patients did not stop and she eventually got transferred to the tele floor by another nurse.

I got to work early the next night so that I could visit her, say goodbye and wish her well in her recovery. She coded that afternoon. I doubt I will ever see the same house on my way to work again.


An Open Heart said...

NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Oh, I want to have that much clarity about how precious life is....what a beautiful and sad story.
Thank you for telling it.


Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful, and sad story. Thank you for telling it so eloquently.

midwest woman said...

beautiful story and good for you to try and see her again. That small gesture can't be measured or documented as the other BS we do but it's just as important if not more. But you know I'm an old fashioned gal and a dying breed. :) Yhanks for sharing.

DreamingTree said...

Awwww...that is so incredibly sad! I kept anticipating a touching, positive ending. What a shock to hear that she coded! Very sad. How fortunate that you were able to spend some time listening to her life story. I always enjoy those moments -- when I'm not to overwhelmed by work to fully listen.

therapydoc said...

What a story, and you told it so well.

Chris said...

That was beautiful, and heartbreaking.

Marz said...

that was sad :(

Anonymous said...

So, so sad. Reminded me of how precious an A&E job can be in that you sometimes get access to peoples lives who touch you so deeply.

Nursing Anatomy said...

Like everyone else has previously commented, that was not only a beautiful story, but quite moving as well! While reading it, I was hoping that she was the woman who owned that beautiful house! I'm so sorry that she passed, but at least you had a chance to not only meet, but to have a lovely conversation with the woman who made such an impression on you!

GingerJar said...

Lovely story...sad. Sometimes people don't even realize how many lives they touch. She probably never realized her impact on you, even though it was indirect.

RehabNurse said...

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a patient about "six degrees of separation".

In some places, it's way less than that. I found that out once when I realized a patient of mine went to school with one of the parents of one of my high school classmates.

Life is so interconnected, and so short.

Cal said...

That gave me shivers, well done!