Compassion comes from within
Nicholas Klein, RN, had a recent experience with a patient that shows how nursing touches lives and how lives touch nurses. He reminds us all that compassionate care is oftentimes not just what one is obligated to do under licensure, but what one is compelled to do as a human being.
In the quiet minutes just after midnight where the only sounds heard were the medical monitoring equipment and distant voices in the hallway, Klein sat beside a bed and squeezed the hand of a patient with COVID-19 in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU).
Klein had been in the room for hours; his only focus was on one thought: Please don’t let this patient die alone.
“He was actually the same age as my mom,” says Klein. “I kept thinking to myself, what if it was my mom or another family member? I couldn’t imagine them passing away alone. That’s the cruel side of this novel coronavirus.”
Klein had taken care of the patient for two days when he was admitted to the MICU. Months after he cared for this particular patient, Klein recalls those final moments.
“He was completely lucid for a while, and he knew he was dying,” Klein remembers. “The start of the second night, though, I could tell he didn’t have a lot of time left, so we called the family and we explained to them what was going on.”
Klein held a phone up to the patient’s ear so that the man could hear the voices of loved ones unable to hold him or kiss him one last time. Klein then made the decision to stay with the patient until the end, holding his hand and not letting go.
“I stayed in the room with him because it broke my heart,” Klein says. “At the end, he suddenly opened his eyes and looked at me as I sat beside him, me all gowned up and with gloves and with a full face shield so that he could only see my eyes. I told him, ‘It’s okay. Your family loves you very much.’ He nodded and closed his eyes. As I squeezed his hand one more time, he took his last breath.”
Caitlin Cross, RN, BSN, is the charge nurse of the MICU. She remembers that weekend months ago also as one of the hardest ones in her five years as a nurse in the MICU.
“Our unit was full of patients with COVID-19, young and old. We were taking dozens of phone calls a night explaining to families how it is safest for them and everyone else if they stay home, which in turn causes a lot of turmoil for these families,” says Cross. “This particular weekend we had two deaths, and our nurses were extraordinary in their compassion and dedication to ensuring that no one would die alone.”
While Klein sat beside his patient, colleagues took over his other responsibilities and brought him any supplies he needed, with everyone understanding that compassion, especially during times like this, should be the highest priority.
“Whatever situation we have, our nurses learn to carry each other, whether we pick up physical tasks when a nurse is busy or we help each other when our emotions just get too hard,” says Cross. “We go through things together that our families at home will never understand and most of the time will never hear about.”
An unforgettable connection
Klein, who is an adjunct professor in the nursing program at Kirkwood Community College in addition to working in the MICU, says he often tells his students that, at the bedside, you need people skills.
After going home to sleep, Nicholas Klein returned to the MICU the next night, again caring for patients with COVID-19. In the 26-bed unit, the nurse-to-patient ratio is 1-2, which means that in each room, there is another opportunity to personally connect.