Nurses have “experiences” in their career that will stay with them long after their careers are complete. “Seasoned” nurses will agree on this, and younger nurses are just beginning to accumulate their own special moments. We may or may not remember the particular patient but the details surrounding the event are vivid and imprinted in our hearts.
Such was our time with Daniel. He had just graduated from high school where he was voted his senior year as the most likely to succeed in life. He had secured the same summer and weekend job he had held for the past two years so that he could help his folks with his college education and lessen their burden. As we learned more about this young man, the more we were impressed.
When his pastor came to visit him in Intensive Care, we learned that Daniel was going into the ministry as his grandfather before him and that a great number of his activities were already involved in the life he wished to live……giving of himself. Daniel was not only generous with his time for the youth ministry but also had a special place in his heart to help the elderly in the church who were unable to do for themselves or had no one to help them. He enlisted many of the older youths to give of themselves two times per month and a list of homes to visit regularly to cut grass, paint and fix leaking plumbing, etc. This list included not only the elderly but the disabled and those not making enough money to pay for this kind of help. He helped the youth not only to become productive in the community, but he was the basketball and baseball coach for their teams. Many of the young men who he helped and admired him would otherwise be out on the street or getting into trouble with the police; Daniel kept them busy. He was, as his pastor explained, “A very special young man,” and he also was excited to see how successful Daniel would become. Per the pastor, “If anyone deserved that award at school, it was him. He is a shining example of love and giving to others.
After work one day he was dropping his buddy off and going straight home to call his girlfriend and try to patch up an earlier disagreement that had occurred that day. Then he was going to fill out paperwork for college that had come in the mail. When they walked out of work they noticed that it had rained and the fog was as “thick as soup.” After dropping his buddy off, Daniel headed on home at a much slower pace because of the thick fog. His cell-phone rang, and he looked down to see who was calling – he knew it was either his girlfriend or his mother to see why he was running late. His mom had “quite an imagination” when he was late conjuring up all kinds of thoughts of him being in a wreck or abducted “by aliens.”
The tractor trailer driver said that when he rounded the curve, he could not avoid the car headed his way in the wrong lane. It must have been the same time that Daniel was reading his text message that he wandered into the wrong lane. The crash was head on and Daniel’s car was crushed like a can of soda and tossed to the side of the road. When the ambulance crew got to the crash, they took one look and doubted if anyone could have survived; but they began their job of recovery.
After numerous radiology procedures, blood tests and calling in a neurosurgeon, Daniel was sent to us in Intensive Care. His neck brace was still in place, he had been intubated in the field because he was not breathing on his own and so he was being bagged with oxygen until they could get him to the ER and place him on a ventilator (a machine that would breathe for him). His injuries were severe and multiple. ER had placed a chest tube to re-inflate his left lung, x-rays showed a lacerated liver, a fractured skull, along with many other fractures and the worst of all was a totally fractured C2 vertebrae. Would Daniel ever regain use of his arms and legs?
His injuries were unbelieveable, worst of all was the C2 fracture that had left him paralyzed from the neck down. Not only was his spine totally severed, but he was unresponsive, pupils were fixed and dialated and trauma to his head had already started to swell his head to twice it’s size.
The neurosurgeon had asked that the family and Daniel’s pastor be taken to the conference room. He was clearly blunt, and none of what he had to say gave the family a shred of hope. As the conversation continued, the family looked toward me, and I had no positive looks or words to give them. I wanted to be able to say something that would give them hope, something positive, but I had NOTHING. So many times I had been able to think of something of hope to give the family, but this time I was speechless. After 20 years in ICU I knew to stay silent and wait out the testing….knowing that the young man before me was physically not in a good place. I must stay silent until the brain death protocol was completed.
After the doctor had spoken with the family, I asked them to wait in the waiting room while I tried to clean Daniel up. Broken glass was all through his hair and scattered across his body. Dried blood stained his broken body and “pasted” the glass to his skin. All I could think of was what the pastor had told us earlier about this “man-child.” Why did this have to happen to THIS young man when he was so full of promise. After he was cleaned up as much as possible, I got the family so they could spend as much time with him as possible. The donor team had approached the family after the diagnosis of brain death was given, and neither parent were able to make that decision. They were still in shock.
The next day the father came to me, tired with red, swollen eyes and asked, “So if you remove my son from the breathing machine how long will it take him to pass?” Being totally honest I replied that everyone was different and it was all in the hands of the “man upstairs.” As a tear slid down the dad’s cheek he told me that he knew his son would not want to live if it was like this, and at least he and his wife knew where he was going and that they would see him again.
So before us lay a young man who was voted to succeed, but he would never move his arms or legs again. He was already gone and quite possibly looking down on us as we removed the ventilator as the family requested. His heart rate almost immediately started to decline, and then what happened next would leave us all shaken for the rest of our lives. Just before dying, this young man who could not move his arms, raised both arms and reached out as to grasp hold of someone to give them a hug. He then slowly went back down to the bed as we noticed the slight smile on his face fade. Daniel had succeeded in this life and now in death. Forever in the hearts of the people he touched and mentored, he used the short life he had with purpose. Daniel will always be remembered.