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Once upon a time, two women in their late sixties met at church and soon became friends. Letty is now 76 and Martha 74. Martha is a widow and moved to Letty’s small town after her retirement and the death of her husband to be near her children.

Last week, Letty sent me this email, in narrative form. As a retired nurse educator, I immediately recognized a “clinical vignette” that I most certainly would use if I were still teaching nursing. In my module on therapeutic communication, I would ask the students to identify and analyze the RN’s “nursing interventions” that made a significant difference in Martha’s experience of having a CT scan. The vignette could also serve as an insight into the needs and friendships of older persons.

See what you think.

I spent the morning with Martha at the hospital – she needed a CT scan and just wanted me along – again made me aware of what it is to be a widow! I could go back into the area where she was “prepped” for it. We sat in chairs side by side, and the nurse, an RN, offered us warm blankets while she did what she had to do, and then Martha had to drink some barium. When the nurse brought out the four bottles, Martha right away said, “I can’t do that.”

 And I said, “Too bad it isn’t flavored like I did with the Go Lightly with Crystal Light.” 

 Immediately, the nurse said, “I can get that!” And off she went for a package of fruit flavoring and came back and mixed some in the first bottle.  

 Martha took a sip and said, “I can do that.” Over the hour she got three bottles down – and that was it. As the nurse kept chatting with us, Martha kept sipping, and then it was time to go for the scan. Later the tech told her they got great pictures! What a relief. Martha doesn’t like to drink much, so this much fluid really was hard to do.

 The nurse was most patient with Martha’s request, and told her how to just sip away. On a scale of 1-10, she was a 10.  I told her about you saying nurses don’t get near the credit for all they do, and I think she used a phrase similar to what you wrote or Marianna [my friend at nursingstories.org] wrote! The RN is normally an ICU nurse, but said she does this to keep her sane!   

 She was everything you’d want in a nurse under these circumstances – Martha was a bit nervous about it, and her BP was high, and the nurse just calmly said, “It is okay. Just check it on your own sometime.”

 Martha has always had a great BP, but lately it has been high, so her doctor suggested she go to the same place, at the same time of day, to monitor it for a couple of weeks. The nurse told her the same thing. Martha is on some low dose of a BP medication until she sees her doctor again next week. It has been good where she has gone to test it lately. I think she just was more anxious when she saw all she had to drink.

 Another case of being a widow and how it is to do these things alone! She hates to ask for help but knows I am always willing to be there. Her daughters would have to take off from work, and they have done that when she asks, but she feels that isn’t nice for them. She could have gone alone, but was concerned about how she might feel afterwards, and that was before she knew she would have to drink that stuff!  

 She took me out for a late breakfast – a place we went to once in a while when we used to live nearby. So a pleasant ending to it all.

 Heartwarming, right?  How would you feel in Martha’s situation?

Can you see why Letty rated the nurse as a “10”? Offering warm blankets, getting the flavoring, giving instructions how to sip, chatting for distraction, being patient, being calm…

No doubt, as you read this story, your own experiences crowded your mind. Know that you have a right, as a patient, to be treated in all encounters with competence, respect, and compassion.

Thanks to Letty (not her real name), one of my sisters, for permission to print her story about her morning with her friend Martha (not her real name).  “Letty” had no idea that she’d given me such good material to show the holistic care of a nurse!