A few months into my first nursing job, I met Michael, the patient who put me on the road to true nursing. Still limping down the painful road from enjoying success in nursing school to putting it into practice, I drove home most days thinking, “I can’t go back tomorrow. I can’t go back tomorrow.” I lived in terror of getting caught alone with a patient whose survival depended on all that “nursing magic” that had so far sailed over on my head. Orienting on an acute dialysis unit, my only useful skills were a pretty good nursing vocabulary, understanding of aseptic technique, and the complete understanding that there was no question too stupid for me to ask. I would have never have made it if my supervisor had been one of those who “ate her young.” (terrorized new nurses)
I was assigned to care for Michael. Though I didn’t voice it, I thought Michael’s family ought to think hard before they subjected him to dialysis. He was thirty-six years old with Down’s Syndrome and its many cardiac complications, diabetic, had hepatitis B, and now needed dialysis. I worried about how he would deal with it at his three-year-old functional level.
I could have saved my worry. Michael stole every heart in the dialysis unit. He was smiling when his mother brought him in, did everything he was asked, dealt with his pain, and was the kindest patient I ever had the privilege of caring for. I loved him dearly, and treasured every moment I got to spend with him over the short three years I had the gift of being his nurse. Thanks to Michael, I learned compassion and humility. Everyone has value and something to share.