2021 Hope Babette Tang Humanism in Healthcare Essay Contest: Third Place Nursing Student Essay: Empty Beds : Academic Medicine

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2021 Hope Babette Tang Humanism in Healthcare Essay Contest

Third Place Nursing Student Essay: Empty Beds

Grey, Jessica1

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004259
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It was mid-way through my shift when the floor nurse informed me that a room on my assignment was being placed on COVID-19-precautions. The 2 women residing in the room were showing symptoms and had been tested earlier that morning for the virus. We had been dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 for several weeks by this point, and I was used to the song and dance. I set up my donning station outside of the room, complete with yellow plastic gown, plastic face shield, fogged goggles, and the KN95 mask I had been using all week. I was aware that this is surely not a sight anyone wants to see when they are feeling sick, but it was my only option for providing care.

I entered the room with my layers of protective shields, and I assessed the situation. I started with Ms. D, a 100-year-old woman who worked as a nurse herself during World War II. She was particular about her care and never shied away from telling you what she wants, but she always expressed polite gratitude once her care was complete. I assisted her with her lunch and then helped her get ready for her afternoon nap. No issues there.

Next, I moved onto Cat, a 94-year-old woman who had been living on this long-term care unit for nearly a decade. In addition to English, Cat was fluent in French and Greek, and had a colorful medical history riddled with physical and psychiatric diagnoses. Over the year and a half I had worked at the facility, I had fallen victim to a few cups of juice to the face, some attempted slaps, and more than a few harsh-worded insults while working with Cat. I was also blessed to have shared many laughs with her. She loved to sing in French, and in moments of lucidity, she would share stories about her younger years and tell everyone how beautiful they are.

When I went into her room that day, she was shaking and was very clearly not at ease. After many failed attempts at getting her to eat, I helped her get ready for her nap. I assisted her so she could lay in bed, where her entire body continued to shake. I began to stroke her head as she shook beneath her sheets, and although my hands were gloved, this still seemed to provide her a great deal of comfort. Her body relaxed, the shaking ceased, and it was apparent that a sense of calm had overtaken her. She raised her head for a brief moment to look at my eyes through the many layers of plastic. “I am going to die,” she said to me.

I pondered her words for a moment, unsure of how to respond. “I love you,” I said to her, without realizing these were the only words that I knew for certain were true about the situation.

“I love you too,” she said back. She lowered her head, closed her eyes, and fell asleep. That was the last conversation Cat and I had with each other. She passed away nearly 6 hours after.

Just a few days later, Ms. D looked like she would not be far behind her roommate. As the virus continued to spread throughout the body of this century-old woman, she maintained her awareness, her spunk, and even her manners. Her ear began to shrink and curl, a sign that we had been taught meant that a person was actively dying. She did not request much, and she remained stoic during her final hours. She never asked for more than a few blankets, although I knew in my heart that no blanket could shield her from the cold she was likely feeling.

In a moment of intuition, I felt an urge to check on Ms. D during the later hours of my shift. Noticing she was not showing signs of life, I rushed to tell the nurse what I found, and she quickly joined me in the room to assess vital signs. The pulse oximeter was detecting a pulse. We were by Ms. D’s bedside as she took her final breaths and her heart produced its final beats. I held her hand in mine and stared at the wedding band that was still on her finger.

While these 2 women had likely seen numerous aides, nurses and caretakers in their lifetimes, this was only my second year working as a certified nursing assistant. These are some of the first patients I had put my heart into caring for. When we finally dissolved our COVID-19 unit, our census had nearly been cut in half. What was once a floor teeming with life and personalities was now merely a skeleton of its former self. I walked down the hallways as I normally would to make sure everything was as it is supposed to be, except now, doorway after doorway, the rooms are empty.

I stopped in the former room of Cat and Ms. D, and I sat in Ms. D’s brown, crushed-velvet armchair. I stared at the 2 empty beds in front of me, and for the first time since I started working in a nursing home, I wished I had more patients to take care of.

2021 Hope Babette Tang Humanism in Healthcare Essay Contest

The Arnold P. Gold Foundation holds an annual essay contest to encourage medical and nursing students to reflect on their experiences and engage in narrative writing. The contest began in 1999 open to medical students and expanded in 2018 to include nursing students. Students are asked to respond to a specific prompt in a 1,000-word essay.

For the 2021 contest, students were asked to use the following quote as inspiration to reflect on humanism in healthcare during the past difficult year using their experiences or observations, as an individual or as a team (doctors, nurses, therapists, etc.)

“We’ll observe how the burdens braved by humankindAre also the moments that make us humans kind;Let each morning find us courageous, brought closer;Heeding the light before the fight is over.When this ends, we’ll smile sweetly, finally seeingIn testing times, we became the best of beings.”

— Excerpt from “The Miracle of Morning,” by Amanda Gorman

More than 270 essays were submitted. A distinguished panel of judges, including esteemed healthcare professionals and notable authors, reviewed the submissions. Three winning essays from medical students and three winning essays from nursing students were selected, along with 9 honorable mentions. The winning essays will be published in consecutive issues of Academic Medicine and the Journal of Professional Nursing in the fall/winter of 2021.

The contest is named for Hope Babette Tang-Goodwin, MD, who was an assistant professor of pediatrics. Her approach to medicine combined a boundless enthusiasm for her work, intellectual rigor, and deep compassion for her patients. She was an exemplar of humanism in medicine.

The Arnold P. Gold Foundation is a nonprofit organization that champions humanism in healthcare, defined as compassionate, collaborative, and scientifically excellent care. This Gold standard of care embraces all and targets barriers to such care. The Gold Foundation empowers experts, learners, and leaders to together create systems and cultures that support humanistic care for all.

Copyright © 2021 by the Association of American Medical Colleges