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Prodigal son

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One of our cancer patients, Martheen, was nearing the end of her fight with the disease. I remember coming in to check her PT and she and her husband were talking about their years together, their kids and the vacations they had taken.

Their daughter was on her way to be with them. She arrived that day and was teary but supportive. However, they couldn’t find their son, whom they hadn’t seen in years. He lived in Alaska and was a bit of a loner. They weren’t sure how to contact him, but Martheen knew it would be her last chance and just had to try. I recommended that we call our chaplain, Robert Carbonell—maybe he would be able to make some phone calls for them.

Robert did his best, but when he called the number we found for the son, the person on the other end hung up without waiting for an explanation of why Robert was calling. Robert suggested that maybe I should call—perhaps the man would be more likely to listen to a nurse.

I am a mother and a nurse; I know how important it was for Martheen to talk to her son. It’s difficult for people to “leave” when family, especially children, aren’t there to say goodbye. I’ve seen patients linger, waiting for someone or something before they could pass on. Still, I had a couple of hours of end-of-shift work after I talked to Robert. The first chance I had, I tried the number for the son. He still didn’t answer, but I left a message explaining the situation.

The son must have gotten the message because he called his mother that night from Alaska; they spoke for the last time. Martheen passed away less than 48 hours later. Her husband was relieved and grateful that his wife could die in peace and that he had reconnected with his son.

Lois McDonald-Patillo, RN, BSN, Memorial Hospital of South Bend, Ind.

Memorial Health System, Inc., established in 1984, serves as the parent company of Memorial Hospital, as well as Memorial Health Foundation, Memorial Home Care, Memorial Health & Lifestyle Center, HealthWorks! Kid’s Museum, Memorial Children’s Hospital and Memorial Medical Group. These organizations provide a variety of health care services to the community, ranging from inpatient care to home care, medical supplies, pharmacy services and occupational health services, as well as primary care physicians and specialists.

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