Lessons From Michael

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 eluded me.  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 twice before subjecting 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.  Selfishly, I dreaded caring for him, thinking he would challenge my meager nursing skills.

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. Every soul has value and something to share.

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60 thoughts on “Lessons From Michael

  1. Oh this made me smile 😊 such a beautiful post. I work with this client group in supportive living and yes, they amaze me with their beautiful outlook on life – plus one of my young ladies with Downs shows me how to program the DVD to work 😊 xx

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  2. I think the life expectancy of a child with Downs Syndrome depends on the child. I had a cousin who I think outlived his mother after his father died. They had to put him in a group home when he was older. He seemed, according to this aunt, to be getting really good care. He had a five-year-old mentality. The last I heard, I think he must have been in his sixties. Some can do quite well in a sheltered workplace. Having been a nurse, you probably know more about it than I do. I worked as a substitute teacher with mental special needs children and found they were darling. 🙂 — Suzanne

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  3. 👍 Though I’m sure it was frightening at first, you have my admiration. Nursing is a tough job, one that would definitely challenge my confidence. A patient like Michael would certainly make all the education and hard work worthwhile. I know you became well loved in the dialyses unit with your sense of humor and kind heart. Besides, I suspect that you can be a tough old bird. Like mother, like daughter.😉

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  4. dave lewis says:

    I wish all nurses were as kind as you. I’ve ran into a lot that make you feel that you’re getting a favor or worse still wish you would just die and get it over with.

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  5. Thanks for sharing this story of Michael and how it formed you in the caring profession of nursing. I hope everyone gets to meet their own Michael in this life and walk away from the experience with your outlook.

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  6. Beautiful post, Linda. Nurses are a special breed. I thought about nursing, but after volunteering I realized quickly that I would never be able to deal with the pain and suffering. Those of you who can, and who can help the patient deal with it, are simply too awesome for words.

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