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Stories of the Heart

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As a nurse in the preoperative holding area, my interactions with patients are usually limited to less than one hour. Despite this limitation, memories of many of them remain in my heart as if it were yesterday.

Jennifer was a 34 year old school teacher. Her husband of seven years was an attorney whom she met while attending the University of Texas. They purchased a new home the previous December and that January they took their two little boys, ages 3 and 5, to Disneyland. Soon after, a single episode of rectal bleeding sent Jennifer to the doctor. With an unexpected diagnosis of cancer she now was facing the possibility of a colostomy.

As she was prepared for surgery her husband sat as close to the stretcher as possible, holding her hand and stroking her hair. He kept apologizing for getting in my way. Although he really was in my way I never told him. I was impressed that they were so composed knowing how anxious and devastated they must have been. When the surgeon and anesthesiologist arrived the couple was cordial and asked the appropriate questions. However, when the OR nurse arrived and asked her if she was ready she began to cry uncontrollably. Her husband immediately stood up, reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box.

"I had a feeling this might happen. That's why I brought this with me today. It is two days early, but I have your Valentine's gift. I know you can't take it to the operating room but it tells the story of our life together." My patient regained her composure and curiously opened the box which contained a blue velvet pouch. Inside the pouch was a sterling silver bracelet with seven charms: two charms of a little boy each engraved with one son's name and birth date, a school house, a University of Texas logo, a replica of their new house, a Disney character, and a heart that said "I love you." As our patient held the bracelet to her heart I saw the tears fill the OR nurse's eyes. I turned my head away so the three of them could not see mine.

Several hours later I saw her being wheeled out of the operating room. Sadly, she was wearing a colostomy bag. However, she was also wearing the sterling silver bracelet. The OR nurse had gone to the waiting room when the surgery was completed and asked her husband for the bracelet. While still under anesthesia she had placed it on our patient's wrist so it would be there when she woke up.

It has been well over ten years since I cared for Jennifer. I often wonder about the sterling silver bracelet and how many charms may have been added to it. Although I never knew what happened to this couple, as Valentine's Day approaches every year, I think about this gesture by a man who was so deeply in love with his wife he thought nothing of displaying it in the presence of two strangers.

As bedside nurses we are there during the most frightening and devastating moments of people's lives. These are the times we provide as much comfort and support as our hearts can give. Then there are times when our hearts can only absorb what we witness. Those are the priceless moments, when the intimate expressions of love and romance and sweet acts of compassion by our nursing peers are played out in front of our eyes. Nurses are so incredibly privileged. We don't have to wait for Valentine's Day to experience the beautiful stories of the heart. We see them every day and so many of them become etched in our heart forever.

Joy Shiller, RN, BSN, MS, CAPA, is a level III RN in main 3 OR pre-op.

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