Heartbeat in a bottle

May 06, 2016

Nurses are the front lines of the health care workforce and spend more time with patients – and their families – than any other health care provider. In annual polls, they are ranked as the most trusted medical professionals, with honesty and ethical standards rated even higher than those of the clergy. Here’s an example why.

When Bryan Morgan’s father died recently, members of the nursing staff at Riverside Regional Medical Center presented him with a small strip of EKG paper inside a blood sample vial. The EKG represented his father’s final heart beats. In a symbolic sense, the nurses helped Bryan’s father share a final message with his family.

Bryan appreciated the gift of an EKG strip, which the critical care nurses also gave to his sisters and mother. But he was clear in explaining that his memories of his father are highly personal, an enduring part of his life and something he would hold within his own heart.  For him, the “heartbeats in a bottle” were less a link to his father than a strong reminder of his experience at the hospital and what he described as the “above and beyond” care that nurses like Jessica Darden, RN, and the rest of the care team provided not only for his father, but for the rest of the family as well.

Jessica is very gratified that Bryan and his family were, in a very difficult time, able to gain a measure of comfort that went beyond clinical care, but adds that she and her team members view attending to the needs of family members as an important part of their mission as nurses.

“The whole intensive care environment with its focus on medical technology can feel overwhelming to families of critically ill or injured patients. Caring for both patients and families under these circumstances, when people are feeling the most vulnerable, can be especially challenging. The hardest time was when Bryan’s dad was removed from life support. We wanted the family to know we were there for them but also wanted to make sure we weren’t obtrusive during that time of closure. The last thing they were thinking about was their own needs, so we wanted to be particularly supportive.”

“Helping families with comfort and well-being is something that we definitely see as essential to our role as nurses. But from my personal perspective, it’s also something that I would want for my own family and something that I actually love doing. I’m always glad to know that people like Bryan think we’ve been helpful beyond traditional nursing care and have made a difference for him and his family. But at the same time, I feel like we get just as much back as we give.”