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Humans of Penn Nursing: Zyanna Marie Almonacy, Nu’21

“This past month, during my clinical in HUP’s Surgical ICU, the health care team made the decision to hold a meeting with my patient and his family. Earlier in the month, he was diagnosed with metastatic brain cancer.

However, even after his brain surgery earlier in the week, his condition continued to worsen and he was becoming more sleepy and disoriented as time passed…the doctors weren’t sure how much time my patient had left to live.

Because I was caring for (my patient) “Timothy” that day, I and my nurse preceptor were also part of the family meeting. It was the heaviest patient family/provider interaction that I’ve witnessed throughout my time as a nursing student.

At one point in the meeting while they were discussing options, the oldest daughter turned to her father Timothy and said: “Daddy, do you just want to be comfortable right now?” and my patient opened his eyes, looked at her, and nodded before closing them again. My patient’s wife began to sob as she held onto my patient’s arm.

During the meeting, I felt both humbled and at a loss. I felt humbled to be present amidst such an intimate moment between my patient and his family. But I felt at a loss for words and action because I knew there was nothing I could do to change the outcome of this situation. This situation was also particularly heavy for me to witness because I’d also lost two loved ones within this past year.

The Attending doctor was phenomenal, he listened and showed the family so much emotional support throughout the entire meeting as they made the difficult decision to let their loved one go into hospice.

After the meeting, my nurse and I stopped by to check on the family as they spent time with the patient. We reminisced and laughed about how technology has changed so much over the years and talked about the different crafts we did. My nurse and I held their hands and bought them snacks throughout the day.

By the end of my clinical, my patient’s wife took off her own silver earrings that she had made (and was wearing) and put them in my hands. “I want you to have these, as a thank you for everything you did today.”

I was caught off guard. I still felt like I hadn’t done much considering the circumstances, but I was so touched by her actions. I appreciate how nursing has provided me with the space in time to connect on a deeper level with people with who I normally may not have an interaction with.

Despite the fact that I was the youngest person in the room and the only minority, I connected with my patient’s family as fellow humans who’ve experienced pain and loss.

While I haven’t worn the earrings (thanks covid). I still have them on my dresser as a reminder not to forget what lies in the heart of nursing for me: it’s not perfect time management, or even expert critical thinking skills.

For me, the heart of nursing is the ability to be physically and emotionally present for my patients and showing them genuine empathy.”

To submit your own story, visit www.nursing.upenn.edu/humans.