As a palliative care nurse practitioner, I have the opportunity to have many memorable patient experiences, but one stands out above the others. Dealing with patients who have serious life-threatening illnesses allows me to have conversations with them about their quality of life and their last wishes, their “bucket list” in a condensed time frame, so to speak.
Several years ago, I met a patient, Mr G. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and was given a 2-month life expectancy. His life was complicated by drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and familial estrangement for approximately 20 years. While assisting him to complete his living will, I asked him the question that I have asked many of my patients previously: “If there was only one thing you could do before you die, what would it be?” Mr G thought for a moment and then responded, “I would like to attend a Renaissance Festival.” Now realize, I have had many patients request many things, including malts from a specialty ice cream shop, a visit with their new grandchild, a bag of Oreos, or a fried oyster po-boy. But this was a request that put me on a mission.
Ironically (I believe everything happens for a reason), I found a private Renaissance Festival that occurred 2 weeks after our conversation and fell within the 2-month time frame that Mr G had been given to live. I immediately jumped into action making phone calls and requests for donations to assist with fulfilling a dying man’s last wish.
Four hours after his request, I entered Mr G’s hospital room to offer him the adventure of a lifetime if he could stay healthy enough to attend and be out of the hospital. His face said it all. Mr G improved dramatically over the next few days and was discharged home. A week after discharge, Mr G and I embarked on an adventure 2 hours away from home that would change both of our lives forever.
The Renaissance organization made it its mission to provide an unforgettable experience to a man with a simple request. Mr G was greeted with a costume, a horse-drawn chariot, and numerous gifts, and he was invited to sit with the nobility, an honor reserved for hierarchy at these types of events.
He was brought to the battlefield during a battle to be granted the title of honorary “Lord” for the day and was given a beautiful medieval knife as a memorial gift. Although Mr G was highly debilitated by his disease and required continuous oxygen and extensive medical care, for one day he was alive, energetic, happy, and fulfilled. Mr G expressed feeling overwhelmed by the welcoming that he received and the experience that was created “for a simple man like me with a dying request.”
As I watched an organization come together to make the wish of a simple man a reality, I was filled with emotion. It was in that moment and due to that experience that I realized that often in life we miss the opportunities to address the things that really matter in the end. He did not wish for better health or pray to win the lottery. He did not wish to have a big house or a fancy car. What mattered was an experience that would be his most treasured memory until the day of his death 3 months after our adventure.
Mr G’s memory lives on in my heart, and the lessons learned are offered to many of my patients—be present and listen with an open heart, as sometimes it’s not the medicine, the treatment, or the new advances in medicine that really matter, but the simplicities that make life memorable to each and every one of us.— Michele Landry, MSN, APRN, ANP-BC, CHPN, Lafayette, La.
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