By Diana L. Gallagher MS, RN, CWOCN, CFCN
While watching the CBS news show, Sunday Morning, my attention was captured by a piece offered by Steve Hartman. I admit that I am a fan of Steve Hartman. I always enjoy his sense of which stories are really important. Today's news is filled with turmoil, tragedy, and drama; a lot like life but on a much larger scale. There simply has to be something positive trapped in the midst of so much overwhelming negative information. Once again, Steve Hartman found that thread of optimism in the midst of tragedy. It is that invisible thread and hope that there is something positive to reap out of overwhelming tragedy that serves as a lifeline to so many of us.
Some months ago Steve Hartman initially reported on Chris Rosati's dream of hijacking a doughnut truck and generously giving those tasty treats to those in need of a smile. He made his dream a reality when he delivered hot doughnuts to nursing homes, pediatric units, oncology wings, and countless locations across his hometown, Durham, North Carolina. He understood that no one can resist smiling when biting into a hot, succulent doughnut.
Being a "doughnut and smile deliveryman" was not enough for Mr. Rosati, who is living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS. Commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, ALS is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. As nerves atrophy, the connections between brain, spinal cord and muscles are lost. Patients with ALS suffer from worsening muscle weakness that progresses to paralysis and eventually death. Active lives are replaced with wheelchairs and assistive devices. Voices are lost. Positives are hard to find. There is no cure for ALS and those who are stricken with the disease understand that their time is limited.
Last Sunday, Steve Hartman shared his second story about Chris Rosati. Since being stricken with this devastating disease, he understands his fate but is determined to make the time that he has left matter. His journey has revealed that there are positives hidden in the overwhelming negatives being faced by those living with terminal disease. He is sharing his story and the stories of others living with ALS in a film documentary, "The Blessings of my Disease". There are lessons to be learned from those that are being recorded. Their candor reveals what most of us need to remember and embrace on a daily basis.
Helping Patients Find the Positives
Nurses have the unique privilege of working with patients who are living their lives up to the very moment that they die. We are honored and privileged to work with these patients who have so much to teach us. These special, memorable interactions change our lives for the better and the experience serves to help us to help others.
Unfortunately, not all patients are able to grasp that thread of optimism and positive light on their own. Nurses have the responsibility to help guide patients who are mired in the negatives of turmoil, tragedy, and drama toward being able to grasp that thread of optimism. These situations are fraught with emotion and challenges, but when it works, it is so rewarding.
Nurses working in long term care who encourage patients to be storytellers or to journal their lives are building these meaningful relationships. Patients, both young and old, who fear that they have nothing else to share are shown that they have a lot to give through sharing their "lived experiences" with their immediate and extended families. Hospice nurses are especially gifted at gently prodding for those stories and guiding patients and families to a positive conclusion for a life well lived. Trauma nurses have this opportunity while working with families facing the pain and unimaginable loss of a loved one. By opening a discussion about the reality of the situation and the possibility of organ donation, the hope of something positive coming from a disaster is planted.
The Importance of Making a Difference
There is always a silver lining to be found is we simply look. That positive thread makes the unbearable manageable. People need to know that they are able to make a difference; In spite of tragedy, something positive can happen. Chris Rosati is making every day that he has left count for something. He understands, "If I can't impact people, this whole thing is a waste."
Life is busy. Every day we are assaulted with image upon image of tragedy. Story after story of disasters flood onto our TVs and smart devices. Our lives are all too often caught up in a tsunami of our own drama with last minute demands from work, family, school and friends. It is easy to get caught up in the chaos, but Chris Rosati's story on Sunday was a reminder about what is really important. Sadly, it is all too easy to overlook what is REALLY important until we know that we are losing it. Life is short and we need to live every day as if it were our last.
Take a moment and enjoy that spectacular sunrise or sunset, hold hands with someone you love, bask in the sunshine, share a smile, pass on a chuckle, and savor the simple things that make life worth living. We need to listen for those stories that warm the heart, stories that inspire us, and stories that move us to action. If we embrace these moments, every day will be better; every life will be more meaningful. We can impact people.
About the Author
Diana Gallagher has over 30 years of nursing experience with a strong focus in wound, ostomy, continence, and foot care nursing. As one of the early leaders driving certification in foot care nursing, she embraces a holistic nursing model. A comprehensive, head to toe assessment is key in developing an individualized plan of care.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and do not represent the views of WoundSource, Kestrel Health Information, Inc., its affiliates, or subsidiary companies.