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A Part of the Journey

Updated: Feb 27

Probably the hardest thing we face as healthcare providers is losing a patient. As I said in my book, we're not even allowed the time to stop and grieve the loss, because we are expected to go right on to the next patient. Death, although it is inevitable at some point during the journey of life, always leaves an emptiness for those left behind. This story really touched me. I hope it touches you too ...

A picture of an empty hospital bed.

Ronald's Story

When I was still a student, I remember that I couldn't wait for the day when I would finally get to “save lives.” Nobody ever told me about letting go of the dying and giving in to death. In nursing school, we are taught to be superheroes. We are trained to save lives and perform procedures that prolong life, we make artificial breathing possible, and we keep the heart beating. I can’t remember being taught how to let go and accept the inevitable. One thing is for certain, we are a hundred percent guaranteed that we are all eventually going to die. One time, when I was asked to speak before a group of students about end-of-life care, I remember feeling a sense of blur when I looked out into the crowd. It was a cold auditorium, and with the spotlight up on the stage, all I could see were empty eyes staring back at me. They were probably expecting an emotional and gloomy talk because it would seem inappropriate to speak of death and dying in a joyful manner.

As health care providers we seem to have forgotten the natural cycle of life. Life is beautiful and should be celebrated. By celebrating life, we give it the beautiful ending it deserves. For every person, life has a different meaning, but the culmination of one’s life is usually based on the achievement of what we have hoped for while being alive.

Years of experience have taught me that a dying person is not necessarily afraid of death, most of them are afraid that they can no longer do the things they wanted to do for themselves and for their loved ones. They have lost hope. Once their doctors have given up on them and all else is exhausted, hope is nowhere to be found. Dying people have shifted from being a person with hopes and dreams to a person who can only settle for breathing each minute.

Looking back to when I was a new nurse assigned to the ICU, I was very overwhelmed and intimidated by all the machines and critical patients around me. Nevertheless, I was excited to play hero, I was just waiting for that helpless victim. When there in the bed in the corner room of the ICU, was a scrawny 14-year-old boy with jaundiced skin and bloodshot eyes. He was breathing heavily although he was wearing an oxygen face mask. I could hear his crackled breathing, as he lay there quietly observing the people around him.

His name was John, and he was assigned to me. John had been diagnosed with Leukemia; he was in the terminal stage.

The young boy had been in and out of the ICU for months. His father, despite the doctor’s advice to take John home, said that he could not bear watching his son die at home knowing that there might still be something that could be done.

That afternoon, while I was giving John his IV medication, I noticed him fixing his attention on the television. The TV show host was asking some kids what they would like to be when they grow up. The words just suddenly came out of my mouth as I asked him “John, what would you like to be? An engineer? A doctor?”

After a few moments of silence, he answered, “I do not want to be anything else…but alive.”

I felt a strong jolt in my chest. I can still vividly see the sadness that was in his eyes. Oh, how I regretted having asked that question! But something else went through me, and so I asked another question “Can you tell me how long the doctor said you will live?”

Nonchalantly, he answered, “A few months, weeks, maybe tomorrow…I don’t know.”

Nerves got the best of me, and I told him “John, you have been here for more than two weeks already, and it must have been so difficult for you to see other people die here in the ICU almost on a daily basis. The good news is that you have outlived most of them.”

I gave him a smile and said “Life can be so ironic, you are sitting here waiting, and I, on the other hand, may be able to go out and about but what if something bad happens to me? You may still outlive me!” I went on saying “It’s never really too late to have a dream, life is all about hopes and dreams!" Then I emphasized, "You must not give up on yourself!"

He was just staring at the television when I told him “How about I give you an assignment? The next time we talk, you tell me if you have decided what you want to be.”

He just stayed silent, but I was really hoping that he’d think about it.

The next day he seemed to be feeling a little better. He would even give a smirk when talked to. I asked several times about his decision, but he'd just smile and tell me he still hadn't made up his mind. Finally, at the end of my shift, I asked him again, "John, have you made up your mind? Have you decided on being an engineer?”

His face brightened as he smiled at me and said, “I want to be a nurse.”

The next morning when I came on duty, the bed in the corner room of the ICU was empty. Something told me that I did the right thing because John had died with hope and a dream.

It is not for us nurses to prolong our patients' lives, but to help them hold on to that hope that they can still do what they have lived for, even on the verge of dying. We help them live until they die. We give them real hope by believing in their dreams. We may not be superheroes all the time, but we can make someone’s life worth living.

For more stories like this one, pick up a copy of Off the Chart A Nurse's Journey

of Heart and Humor at

Published by Jennifer Tipton / This post may contain affiliate links.

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