As soon as he stepped out of the elevator, I froze but my mind raced… “Maybe he has a gun? Why is he here? Why would anyone come back a month after their wife died suddenly from a surgical complication?
I edged closer to the desk planning to call security when he saw me and called out my name. “Kathleen, where is Carey? He asked, “I need to see Carey.” He didn’t sound angry.
Like anyone with PTSD, I could recall every detail of that day as if I was watching a rerun of a movie in my mind. The nurse called a code on Mrs. M., a young mother of two who was admitted as overflow for a 24-hour stay after jaw surgery.
Immediately after the code team pronounced her dead, the secretary called me over to the phone. “It’s Mr. Martin” Annie said, holding her hand over the receiver and pushing the phone into my hands.
“I can’t,” she whispered.
“Hello, this is Kathleen.”
“I just dropped the kids at school and am on my way – will be there in 20 minutes. How is Lucy?”
“Drive safely,” was all I could say, “and I will meet you when you get here.”
I stood by the elevators nervously pacing after paging the supervisor and pastoral care. I remember inviting him into the family room, somehow finding the words to tell him that his wife had died. Sobbing, we went to her room. Everyone’s hearts tore that day. She had probably thrown a PE or hemorrhaged, but we never did find out the cause of death.
Now, a month later, he had returned. Somber, focused, and asking for the nurse who cared for his wife. As the manager, this was unprecedented and my attention was on protecting Carey or de-escalating any situation.
Just then Carey came out of the med room and he called out to her. Carey’s eyes told me that she was just as baffled as I was, so I hung back eavesdropping on the conversation…
“I just wanted to show you something”, he said taking out a photo. It was a group picture of a soccer team and he pointed out his daughter.
“Look”, he continued, “I just wanted to share… she did make the team. And look. Evan did pass math.”
Tenderly, she took the photo and report card. I realized then that Carey had been an important part of the last conversation he had shared with his wife. He wanted to touch that that place again – so he drove all the way to the hospital to find the nurse who had shared that last precious moment with them.
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“Connection is why we are here; it is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives” – Brene Brown
Kathleen Bartholomew, RN, MN, is an internationally recognized patient safety and health culture expert. Kathleen has spoken on leadership, communication, patient safety, and peer relationships to hospital executives and nurse leaders for twenty years.
All of her books come from her passion to understand the stories of nurses. Her books, “Ending Nurse to Nurse Hostility” and “Speak Your Truth” illuminate our relationships with our peers and physician partners. She is also co-author of “The Dauntless Nurse” which was written as a communication confidence builder.
Kathleen is also a guest Op Ed writer to the Seattle Times and has been interviewed twice on NPR’s “People’s Pharmacy”. Her Tedx Talk calls for changing our belief system from a hierarchy to equality in order to keep our patients safe – and also explains how disaster thrust her into ‘the best profession ever’.