December 29, 2021

TNAA Traveler Grants Patient’s Final Wish

In late 2020, CDC officials warned against gathering for the holidays due to potential risks with COVID-19. Some people shook off the warnings, but the danger of spreading the illness in social circles remained.

Katrina W., a TNAA ambassador and ICU nurse, saw the unfortunate consequences play out on the hospital floor as she was on assignment in North Carolina. The weeks after the holidays brought a rash of hospitalizations as citizens were admitted for COVID-19 pneumonia. 

A Tried and True Love

Two of these patients – an elderly man and his wife – were admitted to the hospital the same day. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, as Katrina called them, were sent directly to the ICU. 

“When they came in, she was a lot worse than he was,” Katrina recalled. “He was at the point where he needed to have high oxygen flow, but she needed to be on the ventilator.”

The couple had been married for 60 years, taking on life’s challenges side-by-side. But in the hospital, they were in separate rooms, and Mr. Smith would beg to see his lifelong love every night.

“He would just yell for her and would rip off all of his oxygen sources,” Katrina recalled. “He was bound and determined to get to her.”

Healthcare workers would suit up in their PPE and come into the room to reorient Mr. Smith. They would try to explain the situation – that he and his wife were both very sick and needed rest – but he kept trying to be with her anyway.

“Each time we told him, his crystal blue eyes welled up with the biggest tears, and one-by-one, they navigated the wrinkles of his face,” Katrina said.

After two weeks in the ICU coupled with no sleep and lots of noise, Mr. Smith had “lost all touch of reality,” Katrina said. He had forgotten why he was there and had forgotten that his wife was in the hospital as well.

The Awaited Reunion

Doctors gave the couple’s sons daily updates. Eventually,  Mrs. Smith got too ill, and the sons were called to come to the hospital. That night, the siblings decided on comfort measures for both parents, but under one condition: Mr. and Mrs. Smith had to both be in the same room. With that news, Katrina rushed to Mr. Smith’s room to get him ready to reunite with his wife.

“We took off all of his monitoring devices, doused him with soapy water, caked his face in shaving cream, and shaved him,” Katrina said. 

As they were drying him off from his bath, Mr. Smith grabbed Katrina’s arm and asked what was happening. Katrina, amazed that Mr. Smith was aware of what was happening, explained they were getting him ready to see his wife. His blue eyes again filled with tears, but they were tears of joy this time.

“It was like the best thing we could have ever done, and he was the happiest man,” Katrina remembered.

His wife was taken off the ventilator. As Mr. Smith was wheeled into her room, though Mrs. Smith had been sedated for weeks, she reached out for his hand.

“They got as close to each other as humanly possible, and you could just watch the peace come over them,” Katrina said.

With their partner at their side, Mr. and Mrs. Smith were ready to let go. They died within 15 minutes of each other.

“To find a love to withstand depressions, and wars, and children, and even pandemics – and in the end only want each other – what an absolute gift from God!” Katrina remarked.

TNAA’s #bethegood Campaign

When you think of being the good the world needs, maybe only happy moments come to mind. However, as Katrina said, “Helping someone leave this earth in a special manner is just as important.”

It was an emotionally taxing experience for Katrina, but she is glad she could #bethegood for Mr. Smith.

“That was his dying wish, and it was obviously her dying wish as well,” Katrina said. “To make that wish come true is probably one of the best things I’ve done in my nursing career.”

You can read more stories about healthcare workers making a difference in the lives around them on TNAA’s #bethegood page.