Jul. 23, 2017

April & the Cancer Patient

Miss Dorothy Pearlman was a 38 year old single black female who came to us with stage IV pancreatic cancer. Sadly, she came to die, but in comfort. Her only living sibling, a sister, was unable to care for her during her debilitation and it was agreed between the two of them that Dorothy would stay with us for the 24 hour around-the-clock nursing care she needed.

Miss Pearlman was admitted to room 411, just outside the nurse’s station. We kept her close to us. Twice her PCA (Patient Controlled Analgesia) pump beeped loudly. The pump allowed her to medicate herself whenever needed. Both times, it blew her veins and caused her a lot of pain. After the last time, we made sure to monitor the pump closely to catch the infiltration before it started to hurt her.

Her favorite aide was April. Although April was not a very religious person, she would spend a lot of time with Dorothy talking about the Bible and praying with her. She catered to Dorothy like a mother hen so much that Dorothy used to tell April when she died she was going to come back and visit her.

“You know, Michelle,” April said to me one night, “I love Miss Dorothy, but if she ever did come back to visit me, I would turn as white as you!”

“I don’t think it would be to haunt you,” I offered with a laugh. “I’m sure it would be just to let you know that she is okay and is no longer suffering.”

As April left to make her rounds, she stated clearly, “She does not need to come back and tell me that. I’m sure God will take of her once she leaves this world.”

Dorothy only stayed with us for six weeks. We came into work one afternoon to find her room by the nurses’ station empty. She had passed away only hours before. Because of the cancer, it was very quick and sudden.

Jane, the 7-3 nurse, complained, “I’ve been hearing Miss Pearlman’s PCA pump beep all morning. I forget she’s gone until I go to check on her.”

At the time, I neglected to tell April any of that even when April said, “As sad as it is, I’m glad she’s gone. She was hurting so bad these last few days.”

Instead, the prankster in me took over. When April was down the hall, I’d run into the room and turn on the call light to room 411 and then run off and be somewhere else before April could get to the room.

“Michelle, I know that’s you,” she declared after the third time.

I was coming out of the bathroom. “It isn’t me,” I lied innocently enough. “How can I have done it and be in the bathroom at the same time?”

“It can’t be Miss Dorothy. Do you think she really did come back to see me?” April asked a little unsure.

I shrugged. “Maybe she did? I have heard the PCA pump beep a couple of times (and I had) and, of course, the call light keeps going off so, who knows.”

“Yeah, but I still kind of think that’s you.”

Just before our shift ended, my staff and I were sitting at the nurses’ station waiting for the 11-7 shift to come on and take over when the call light to room 411 came on all by itself. We were all sitting there together when it happened. April turned to look at me and then turned three shades lighter in the face.

I must have been wearing the same look of surprise because she said, “It was you earlier, wasn’t it?”

With a nervous laugh, I admitted that earlier it was me, but we could all plainly see, it wasn’t me that time.

The following day, the nurse reported that the light buzzed the entire night and the call light stayed lit over the door. Maintenance couldn’t find any logical reason, especially since it had been unplugged and the cord removed from the room earlier that morning.

Was it Dorothy or just a coincidence and how did I manage to turn the light on if it maintenance had already disconnected it? I guess we’ll never really know.