“The heart is the seat of all consciousness.” —Chinese proverb
After my first bout of love and heartbreak as a young adult, I once read that “The heart, with all its good intentions, is the boss.” I found this to be true not only in my personal life, but in my nursing career as well….
David was brought into the ICU in severe respiratory distress; his war with HIV was coming to the final assault. He had a long-term partner, Walter, who was sick in the Oncology ward and they were forced to spend Christmas Eve apart and in the hospital.
David needed to be intubated, and after I gave him some morphine for comfort, he pushed an envelope into my hand with his partner’s name on it. I assumed it was a Christmas card and put it on his bedside table. It wasn’t long before the humming of the respirator became the breath and vein of his life’s blood.
After settling him in with deep suctioning, clean sheets and a morphine drip, we could hear the distant, peaceful drone of the volunteer Christmas carolers singing “All is calm….” I was grateful that my patient was neat and presentable, and as they surrounded him, I was hoping he could distinguish this holiday catharsis from the cacophonous alarms of the ICU.
I was doing my charting when another nurse brought Walter to the bedside of my patient. They had been together for more than 10 years and would die together as young men.
Walter told me he wanted to give his partner a Christmas present. “We’re living on social security,” he said. “And this is all I can give him.”
He pulled a newspaper clipping of a large white stove from his gown pocket. “David loved to cook,” he said, his eyes shining like stars. “We could never afford a nice stove for our studio apartment. All we have is a hot plate, but tonight he’ll get his wish.”
He placed the Sunday advertisement of the Home Depot stove on David’s chest and then held his hand. He asked for a washcloth to wipe the fever from his brow and proceeded to talk to him.
“David, it’s Christmas. With this stove you can bake us a pumpkin pie that will fill our apartment with the smell of home. Just for tonight we’re not sick. Can you hear me? Tonight we won’t go hungry.”
My eyes were thick with water as I witnessed their hell on Earth. I then gave Walter the card his lover had given me. “This is for you.”
“My eyes are bad from my disease,” Walter said. “Could you read it to me?”
I described to him the beautiful picture of angel’s wings on the card and then read the short note.
“If I die before you, I’ll take these wings and promise to find Heaven for us.”
Then we all fell silent.
The heart is the boss, I thought.
David’s heart, despite all that heavy sedation, had remained conscious and in control.
Stay tuned for more stories from NYCRN — published every Monday on scrubsmag.com.