What a Patient Needed Most: A Hand to Hold
Published: Sept. 25, 2020
Charlie Dix, 84, was suffering. The Council Bluffs man (pictured above, center) was living with myasthenia gravis, a form of muscular dystrophy. After more than 10 years in remission, it had resurfaced two years ago, causing frequent aspiration and pneumonia.
On the night of June 10, he was in the hospital again – in the telemetry unit at Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital. Lisa Crowe, RN, began her shift at 7 p.m. and was assigned to Charlie and several other patients. Around 3:30 a.m. on June 11, Charlie’s breathing began declining, and his heart rate went up. He was put on a BiPap machine to help push air into his lungs, but after a little while, he was tired. He told Crowe he didn’t want to be on the BiPap anymore. She asked him if he knew what that meant. He did.
It was a decision that would change a family forever, but one that would bring peace to the husband of 64 years, father of five and grandfather to many. In the hours that followed, Crowe drew on her compassion and dedication to give Charlie and his family the comfort they needed. And she was reminded that sometimes what a patient needs most is simply to have their hand held.
The support of a team
Because of COVID-19 visitor restrictions, Charlie’s family couldn’t be by his side in the hospital, which was challenging and scary for them. But they had faith in the Jennie Edmundson nursing staff and would soon find out just how special one nurse would become to them.
“Lisa was amazing,” said Paula Sass, Charlie’s youngest daughter. “She was absolutely amazing.”
When Charlie made the decision to remove the BiPap and transition to comfort care, the next step was informing his family. Paula received a call from Crowe shortly after 5 a.m. explaining what was happening. Soon Paula, her mother and her siblings were FaceTiming with Crowe and Charlie. They were upset and had questions: What were his stats? His blood pressure? Respirations?
“We asked a lot of questions,” Paula said. “Lisa did not act irritated. She did not act rushed. She took her time with us, and she took her time with my dad.”
Even when one of them asked the same question without realizing it, Paula said Crowe patiently explained again until the whole family understood. Over FaceTime, Paula could tell that Crowe and her father had a good rapport – not surprising since “he was loved by everyone who knew him,” Paula said.
“Even at that time, he was still teasing her,” she said. “And she was just giving it right back to him. That’s the kind of person my dad needed.”
This was Crowe’s first time caring for a patient making an end-of-life decision. So that was her goal – to be what Charlie needed.
“I supported him the best way I could,” she said. “The most important thing for me was his family – that they were on board with his decision.”
Crowe wasn’t the only one supporting Charlie that early morning. As other nurses found out what was happening, they took over her other patients so she could stay with Charlie.
“My team members knew exactly what was going on,” she said. “They knew what his wishes were. So they all understood why I needed to be in the room.”
Paula became emotional when she found out what Crowe’s team did for her father.
“It’s an amazing feeling of comfort to know that they made it possible for him to not be alone and to have somebody with him when I’m sure he had to have been scared,” she said.
“She was what he needed”
It would still be a few hours before Charlie’s family would be able to come to the hospital for his transition to hospice. Crowe never left his room.
“We talked a little bit, but mostly I think he just needed someone in there,” she said. “I think he was scared, but he was ready at the same time.”
Crowe remembered a simulation lab from nursing school where at the end of the simulation, what the patient needed most was to have their hand held. So that’s what she did. She held Charlie’s hand for hours until arrangements were made and her shift was over. She held his hand because his family couldn’t.
Even though this was Crowe’s first time helping a patient through this experience, she knew what to do because advocating for patients is what health care workers do. And she treats her patients the way she would want any nurse to treat a member of her own family.
“I just go in with open arms and a listening ear,” she said. “I talk to them in a comforting voice, knowing that they’re in a safe place, and I’m there if they need me.”
Charlie passed at home two days later. When she heard the news, Crowe felt sadness for his family but was comforted because it was what he wanted. And though the pain of losing her father remains, Paula is grateful to Crowe for her compassionate care and devotion.
“She was what he needed,” Paula said.