Meet Nursing Hero Stephen Webster, Alberta Health Services

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Stephen James Webster, Alberta Health Services.

I want to share this story as I found it very moving. I also feel that it is a good representation of the passion and dedication nurses have for the welfare of their patients both professionally and personally.  I want to show the magnitude of the respect and thoughtfulness that was shown by an RN, Stephen, when a particular patient passed. I will use the name Mr. Smith for this patient for privacy purposes.

Stephen had known Mr. Smith for several years when hospitalized for very long stretches on his unit.  Mr. Smith was impoverished as a result of various social and physical issues over the years. He had very few friends and was estranged from family. Mr. Smith could be a challenge at times but the staff became somewhat endeared to him because of his eclectic character, stories, dry humour and what he went through. He was a character and the unit staff became in a sense his family.  At one point during his hospitalization Stephen had made a point of establishing a rapport with Mr. Smith when he realized that Mr. Smith was giving up. With the outstanding support and care provided by the nurses and physiotherapists on the unit Mr. Smith made strides towards improving his health.  During his hospitalization, Mr. Smith re-connected with his faith as a source of strength. After a prolonged hospital stay, fraught with several complications and trials, Mr. Smith’s perseverance paid off.  Eventually he made enough progress and was discharged.

Sometime later Mr. Smith returned to Stephen’s unit.  After another long hospitalization it apparently became evident that Mr. Smith was not going to be able to go home and was suffering.  Mr. Smith’s health deteriorated; he experienced increasingly longer stretches of being unresponsive. It became evident that Mr. Smith’s condition was not going to improve and that his passing was likely being prolonged.  The hospital came to the very difficult decision to remove aspects of care such that Mr. Smith would likely pass. One of Mr. Smith’s last conscious moments with Stephen was to smile in acknowledgement of wanting to listen to country music playing from a CD player that Stephen had brought for his room.

On a shift where Mr. Smith was Stephen’s patient, it was determined that the level of health care was definitely going to be reduced significantly the following day.  Stephen was not scheduled to work on that particular day. He had a good inkling that Mr. Smith would pass and would likely be alone. On his day off, Stephen went in to see Mr. Smith as a visitor at 7am to keep Mr. Smith company.

Stephen found that Mr. Smith was unresponsive and confirmed the care would be reduced.  Despite Mr. Smith’s state, Stephen spoke to Mr. Smith as if something would get through, telling him what was going to happen and that he wouldn’t be alone. Stephen held his hand and recounted some of the stories they had shared with each other.  Knowing that Mr. Smith was religious, Stephen printed Psalm 23 and put it beside Mr. Smith’s pillow.  Stephen read it to him throughout the morning.

Staff members came in to say their good byes during the course of the morning.   Stephen continued to reassure Mr. Smith that he wouldn’t be alone and told him how his tenacity was admired for enduring the trials and suffering.

The level of medical intervention was reduced.  A few minutes later, Mr. Smith passed peacefully while Stephen held his hand.  Mr. Smith was not alone.

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Shortly after Mr. Smith passed, Stephen found out that according to Mr. Smith’s religion it was a strict custom for the body to be guarded until buried.  Stephen knew how much it would mean to Mr. Smith to follow the custom so he decided to stay until the funeral home arrived.  More staff members came in to pay their respects and were quite moved by his death having known and cared for him for a long time.   The transport to funeral home arrived just before 3pm. 

Mr. Smith had a leather back pack that was so aged and worn that it looked like a museum piece. It contained a few books and had been his one main possessions in the hospital.  Some of the staff had come up with an idea that it would be nice if it was buried with him.

Several days later Stephen attended Mr. Smith’s modest funeral.  Also present from the unit were physiotherapists and a nurse practitioner.   The burial was done according to his religious customs and he was buried with his backpack.  Many of Stephen’s fellow nurses told him they were glad Stephen was able to be with Mr. Smith at the time of his passing and also represent his “family” at the funeral.  Mr Smith’s grave site was marked only with a simple plastic tag and ironically he is buried next to a doctor.

When I mentioned that I wanted to submit this story, Stephen was initially reluctant as he considers himself to be part of a wonderful team of very caring professionals.  However, he decided to let me proceed because if, by chance, this submission does receive any prize, he’d like to use it to get Mr. Smith an actual gravestone, albeit simple.

Stephen’s story touched me deeply and I felt that it needed to be shared to show the extent of exceptional and compassionate patient care that many of our nurses exhibit above and beyond on a daily basis.

Nominated by: Nicki Knight