Through my years of nursing I have learned two facts which are undisputed. Fact One: There will be that one special patient in your career who is your greatest love, your favorite, and no one will ever take his or her place. Fact Two: You won't ever forget them. In my case, it was Willie Johnson.
I was 22 years old when Willie came to stay in our nursing facility. His wife Evelyn worked in the kitchen. Willie would often see me and say, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t remember your name.”
I would smile and patiently answer, “It’s Michelle.” One night, after about two months of this ritual, I said to him, “I know a way you can remember my name.”
“How’s that?” he asked, standing in his doorway which was just across the hall from the 2nd Station nursing desk.
I smiled and answered, “Not only am I the youngest nurse at this facility, I’m also the best looking one.”
He never forgot my name after that. Our relationship flowered after he learned to remember my name. It had become such that his wife signed permission in his chart for me to take him out of the facility whenever I wanted to.
At first, it was just Christmas time, their anniversary, or Evelyn’s birthday when Willie wanted to go out shopping. I would take him out to buy her gifts for these occasions. Later, Bonnie, a fellow nurse, and me started taking some of our CNA’s out to lunch on payday, Willie started joining us.
I came to work one afternoon to pick up my check and go to lunch. Willie was standing at the door with his jacket on. “You going somewhere?” I asked, unbeknownst of his plans.
“I’m going to lunch,” he answered.
“That’s great! Evelyn is taking you to lunch?”
“No, you are.” He zipped up his jacket and went out to my car to wait for my paycheck and me.
One night, Willie had a heart attack and went to the hospital. Over the course of two weeks I had gone up several times to see him and speak with the family, with whom I had grown close.
We were so close that one night, prior to his heart attack, Willie had gone home for a BBQ with his family. When it was time for me to get off work, he still wasn’t back so, I called his wife, Evelyn, and informed her she had Willie long enough. It was time to return him back to me so I could tell him good-night. Of course, I did so over the phone but the point is, that was the kind of relationship we had with each other.
I came into work one day and the Director Of Nurses (DON), Judy Russ, paged me over the PA system to come to her office. I noticed a few staff members hugged me on the way there and patted my back. I said to a few, “Lord, did I kill someone and now I’m fired? Is this good-bye?”
No one said a word. When I got to the office I was instructed to sit down, at which time, my boss told me Willie Johnson had died that morning. They were conflicted on whether to call me at home and tell me or wait until I got to work. They obviously decided the latter.
I walked the halls sobbing, especially every time I passed his room. The next day they had someone else in his bed and I lost it. They had to send me home. It was shortly thereafter I turned in my resignation. I just couldn’t keep coming to work with all the reminders of Willie and the Johnson family. He was my favorite, my greatest love, and though some have come close, no one has ever taken his place.