OTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA has long been
an inspiration and mentor for me as a Christian and as a holistic
nurse. She taught me to look beyond earthly appearances to another
reality in which we may be privileged to witness the face of Jesus
Christ in one another.
This became especially true as I made the transition to a hospice
nurse at CHRISTUS St. Joseph Hospital during Easter week in April,
knew I was being called to care for the dying and their families
through a vision I experienced during contemplative prayer during
the holidays a few months earlier. And since the day I met Dr. Elisabeth
Kubler-Ross, one of the foremost authorities in the field of death,
dying and transition, at the University of Houston in 1979, I knew
in my heart I would some day come to relieve human suffering through
caring for terminally ill people. I have always believed that healing
and a sense of wholeness can occur in all stages of our human existence,
including the dying process, and that Jesus is the greatest teacher
of this universal truth.
The vision, mission and values of CHRISTUS Health nourish and sustain
me on even the most challenging days with hectic schedules and stacks
of paperwork. I have grown professionally and spiritually over the
last four years as a part of the CHRISTUS family, and have taken
advantage of opportunities to follow my heart in answering the call
to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ in various capacities
as a nurse.
One of the patients who taught me the most about lifethe priceless
value of a caring community and gratitudewas a hospital patient
I will call ‘E.’ He was a frail older black man diagnosed
with terminal lung cancer who insisted on being addressed by his
first name. He lived upstairs in a small one-room apartment that
was part of a boarding house in one of the poorer sections of downtown
Houston, less than two miles from the hospital.
In that neighborhood, drug and alcohol use was a common daytime
occurrence on the streets, but I never felt afraid when I visited
‘E.’ In fact, I was welcomed and greeted with respect
by all the neighbors and friends who were glad to see ‘E’
receiving nursing care in his apartment.
Though modest, the building’s interior invited a sense of
community with shared bathrooms upstairs near the bedrooms and a
large kitchen downstairs. There was no air conditioning, and the
rooms were heated by gas space heaters. Though many people might
question the quality of his life and environment, it was obvious
‘E’ viewed this place as a home and enjoyed his lifestyle
His strong conviction was to live there as long as possible with
the support of his landlord and neighbors who looked after him,
and the hospice team. The genuine care and concern for his well-being
was demonstrated by his neighbors one hot summer day when two of
them helped me carry ‘E’ up the stairs to his bed after
he was weakened and dehydrated by too much heat. ‘E’s’
landlord even rode his bicycle to a neighborhood pharmacy to pick
up ‘E’s’ medications, and also made sure he kept
all his doctor’s appointments.
Coordinating ‘E’s’ care was a joy and a challenge.
I learned to respect his values and definition of comfort as I grew
to know and appreciate him. In the beginning, I focused on improving
the safety of his surroundingsfor example, getting his permission
to rearrange his TV and radio so he would not have to walk over
loose cords. I was especially concerned due to his extremely limited
vision and his need to walk with a cane. However, I would return
a couple of days later, only to find everything had been put back
in its previous, unsafe position.
But ‘E’ was always polite and grateful for every small
act of kindness. He was still thanking me weeks after I brought
him a pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving Day.
‘E’s’ plan of care was limited at times by his
lifestyle choices. He smoked heavily, drank beer daily, did not
take his medications on a consistent basis, and often neglected
his personal care needs. It was not safe to bring oxygen into his
apartment because he often ran a space heater even on fairly warm
days, and he refused to quit smoking. His care remained patient-focused
and we were supportive of his informed choices, reminding him he
could receive bathing assistance and a hospital stay for symptom
control whenever appropriate.
However, ‘E’ chose to remain in his apartment and have
his nursing visits increased to daily as needed. During his last
few days when his breathing became very labored, he finally required
‘E’ had lived longer than anyone dreamed possible, and
I envisioned a dozen guardian angels looking over him, thinking
it was a miracle he never started a fire in his apartment with his
smoking habit and tendency to place items too close to his space
When I visited ‘E’ in the hospital as he was dying,
I became aware of the deep place in my heart where he had grown
to live. I was moved to tears as I truly witnessed ‘Jesus
in disguise,’ gazing upon ‘E’s’ inner beauty,
and realizing how much I would miss this precious man.
I feel so blessed to work for a health care system based on Christian
values, where care of the whole person with dignity and respect
is honored, and the Mission is to extend the healing ministry of
Karin Boeringa, RN
CHRISTUS St. Joseph Hospital