My brother died today. I stare at this page feeling unable to write the next line. I’m stuck remembering that dreaded 6am call, when I heard his wife say: ‘I tried resuscitating… paramedics came… but…’. Time of death… age 43… leaving a wife, five-year-old daughter, brother, mother and father grieving in a hospital’s chapel of rest.
Hospitals are familiar to us but there will be surreal times when you live a twisted reality on Saint Elsewhere’s doorstep. When someone close dies, you experience life as unreal. But, in those acutely grief-ridden hours, I did register the nurse who met us by the hospital entrance. Hers was the task of accompanying our family on its journey to see my brother in the chapel of rest.
As a nurse, there have been times when this was my duty. So, on the other side of the fence, I couldn’t help but notice how our nurse went the extra mile. She stood at the hospital entrance, intermittently kicking her leg out to keep the automatic doors open for our family’s bedraggled entrance. She led us down corridors, walking at the right speed, paused the right number of times and said all the right things as our family walked its longest walk to the chapel of rest.
As a nurse, this was the first time I’d walked this walk knowing someone close to me had died. And as a nurse, I felt guilty for not being there to answer his wife’s crash call – even though they lived 100 miles away. My brother died from cardiomyopathy. Those affected often need a heart transplant or are fated to live with or die from heart failure.
In such a large event as death, it’s the smallest things that can launch you into a torrent of tears. I’ve not shed a tear the whole of this day. Perhaps because I’m the senior nurse in the family, I’m the one who’s had to hold it all together. But at 3am, the loss really hit me and I just sat sobbing.
While we said prayers around my brother’s body, our toddlers scrapped, threatening to derail the dignity of the proceedings. Our nurse tossed her ID badge into the melée, keeping them fascinated until the last amen.
As nurses routinely walk along corridors of grief, there might be the temptation to fall into that, ‘same-old, same-old’ task-oriented trap. But our nurse didn’t make us feel that we were just another family.
Although our spirits were excoriated, she led us along darkened corridors, back into the day’s bright light. In the most difficult of times, you need someone who can help navigate you through the next few steps.
Perhaps our nurse was ‘just doing her job’ but I felt proud to belong to the same profession. I know that our family couldn’t have wished for a better nurse. She was the perfect nurse, who made a difference.
Brian Belle-Fortune is a student practice facilitator at Great Ormond Street Hospital
NEXT WEEK: Jane Warner on threatening the public with the naughty step