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Daniel in the Lion's DenLife and Death Stories of a Patient Advocate
By Daniel William Heard
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Daniel William Heard
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA ROUGH BEGINNING
I am sure that God wanted me to feel "at home" in my new job. And the best way would be for me to jump in with both feet. The "Lions" almost bit off my feet before I could even get them on the ground. This first issue would be repeated over and over again during my days as Patient Advocate, but the first time was definitely the worst.
Patient Brenda, a very angry lady in her 40's, complained loudly about her doctor and her discharge. We have guidelines to follow in such cases, but this was only my fifth day on the job and I was not up to speed on protocol or chain of command. I learned both from this experience. After 20 minutes of discussion, I was able to settle her down a little, but only because I agreed to find a higher authority. I would learn to handle this myself in the future.
I went looking for the highest authority, actually my boss, the Emergency Department Director. She was not in (that was a good thing). I should have called the "Clinical Coordinator" who is in charge during my shift (also known as the Head Nurse or Lead Nurse). Instead, I talked to several "office" personnel, who tried to find someone who could deal with this woman. They should never have been involved. Any issues in Emergency should be handled in Emergency.
Sometimes it takes a major mistake to learn a lesson well. We do learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.
Thankfully, word did travel to the Clinical Coordinator, and she talked to the patient. Brenda finally left, and her mood wasn't much better than it was with me. I was reprimanded, but later cleared of any wrongdoing. Whew! My first week of employment, and it almost ended before it began.
The first Patient Advocate hired among the four of us and the one who was instrumental in interviewing me and had a vote in my hiring told me after the angry-patient experience with Brenda that, when in doubt, I should be myself.
She said that I was hired because of my character, wisdom, and empathy. All I needed to do was trust myself. From that day on, I did. And, from that day on, I have experienced the most fulfilling job of my life! A job that would allow me to go beside patients and their families and friends, and simply make their day a better day and provide them with words of assurance, and direction where needed. I love this work.
Death. For the first time, as a Patient Advocate, I was face-to-face with death. Not with just the patient who had died, but also more than 20 family members and friends.
The patient, Joe, was brought in "down" (no vitals), he could not be revived. I was immediately overwhelmed with sadness for the 51 year-old man who died. I looked at Joe and realized that he would never again speak, see, walk, feel the warmth of a loved one's touch, have a piece of pie, listen to his favorite song, or feel the kiss of a cool breeze.
Yet, I also knew that a new journey had begun, and for that I was a little envious. I thought of my daughter, grand daughter, and mother. They all await us in a place that they probably couldn't even describe. A place of love, deep love, unconditional love ... a love that never ends. I prayed for the man. I prayed again with his family. I took them downstairs to view the body. All went well, considering.
Joe's mother referred to me as "Have you Heard" over and over again (after she read my name tag). She smiled, but I understood that smile. It was a smile of shock. Shock is our first response to death. It takes a while to believe it actually happened. I was glad that she had some light moments, but I knew she was deeply hurt and would soon begin to feel the pain of missing her son, Joe.
There is nothing worse than the loss of a child, at any age. God moved me to say the right things (I hope). I know He was there. He always is.
A CALMING PRAYER
As I walked through one of the modules in the emergency department, I came across a man named Isaiah. He was a very slight-built man of 51. He nervously paced about his bed, unable to lie down. He couldn't bring himself to rest. I wasn't sure what made him so intense. As I approached him, he suddenly spoke to me. "Are you a preacher?"
I said, "No, but maybe I could help you anyway."
Isaiah said that his nerves were shot and he couldn't lie down and rest. He asked me if I would say a prayer over him, thinking a prayer might settle him down. I was happy to oblige.
I told him to lie on his side, facing me. I laid a hand on his shoulder and began to pray. I asked God to calm him and give him peace of mind. I also asked God to heal him of whatever is causing his unrest. To my surprise, when I finished the prayer, he said, "Reverend, I am at total peace. Thank you. I feel the Lord's presence and I am fine now. I can go to sleep." And he did!
After a very busy day, this moment also brought peace to me. I told Isaiah to rest now and that I would be available to him throughout the night if he needed me.
As I began to leave the module, two other patients also asked me to pray for them. Usually, whatever I give to one patient, others will follow up with the same request. Patients are very much like children at times. If one is being benefited by my attention, others will want that same attention. That's OK with me.
ENCOURAGEMENT TO HEAL
Just like Isaiah yesterday, three more patients asked me if I was a priest or minister. It is a role that I don't mind filling at all.
I talked with the three patients, saying prayers and giving them encouragement to heal. I enjoy this kind of ministry and see it as an important function of my job as Patient Advocate. Because I wear regular "street" clothes instead of scrubs of a doctor or uniform of a nurse, the patients rationalize that I must be the clergy. To some, I explain my role as a Patient Advocate, but to many I just minister to their needs. Often times, I will say that I am not a priest or minister, or that I am not a doctor, but the patients will not believe me. They say, "Hey, Doc, am I going to be alright?"
I simply tell each of them, "You're gonna be just fine."
They usually respond with something like, "Thanks, Doc. God bless you."
My gray hair seems to have a calming influence. I'm glad it's good for something.
A WIFE COLLAPSES
I joined one of our doctors as she approached the wife of a 48 year-old man who had just been brought into our emergency room. The man was dead on arrival. But, because the doctor needed more information, she asked a few questions before she announced that the lady's husband had died. As the doctor talked about what kind of a day the man had, and asked vital questions about what might have brought on his heart attack, I could see that the wife was beginning to show a little hope, that maybe her husband had survived. It was uncomfortable watching this lady's spirits raise when I knew that her husband was gone.
Finally the doctor said, "I'm sorry to tell you this, but we could not revive your husband. He is dead."
The wife collapsed. She hit her head on the wall as she fell. Regretfully, we had to admit her!
Family members began to pour into our emergency waiting room. I took eight members to view the body, then six more. Several times, I took a number of family members and friends to view the body, and took them to the man's wife so that they might be able to console her. This certainly wasn't normal operation. We were dealing with a deceased man and his injured wife at the same time. Finally, the wife wanted to see her husband. The nurse on duty felt that she was not emotionally stable enough. But the wife and family insisted on her seeing her husband. We finally had to discharge the wife so that she could see her husband. She had calmed down considerably. The viewing went well, considering. Then I said the prayer with the family. There were many hand shakes and hugs. The family found some peace. Prayers are powerful.
A MAN OF PATIENCE AND SHARING
I talked with a 74 year-old patient in TCU (the ward where patients go before being assigned to a regular room on the upper floors – also known as "triage"). He told me all about growing up with 14 brothers and sisters. With that many brothers and sisters always around, he learned his people-skills quickly. He also learned patience and sharing. It was a humbling experience. There was certainly no feeling of entitlement, and no chance of being raised a spoiled child. His grandmother lived to be well over 100 and was originally a slave. He talked endlessly about his life. I spent 45 minutes with him! We also talked about God and Heaven and our faith. He is a Baptist and a Deacon of his church. He has seen a lot of death and dying. He said that it all comes down to loving Jesus. I would have to agree with that. We had a great conversation. Without the position of Patient Advocate, how would I have ever run across such a man?
MICHAEL AND FARRAH
Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcet, both so talented and still so young, died today. For me, when a famous person dies, it reminds me that we ALL live under the same rules of life and death. It doesn't matter how wealthy, how famous, or how talented, our bodies are "temporary." The important thing isn't what we do with our lives; it is what we do for others in our lifetime. And, once again, it really does come down to loving Jesus, whether you are Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcet, or the person that you are today.
THE SADNESS OF BRAIN DAMAGE
This was a very busy day, both outside the hospital and in. We had a woman with bleeding on the brain. She required surgery. I listened as the doctor explained to the family how serious this is. The likelihood of this woman returning to the person she was before her trauma was slim. The survival rate alone was less than 50%. She may die. I sat with over 20 family members for two and a half hours. The entire family loved her dearly and waited for word on the surgery. When I left at 3:00 AM, I prayed with them and then said goodbye. The woman was only 36 and had three young daughters. The next day, I did find out that she survived the surgery, but she was still in a coma. I felt a sadness that overwhelmed me, but I had to go on and help other patients. To be a good Patient Advocate, you have to take the good with the bad. I, for one, however, will never grow resilient to death. It always touches me deeply.
I sat with another family on this day as well. A woman in her 20's had chest pains. I think she will be alright. This family had been here three days prior with another member of the family who had chest pains as well. I was with them then, too. They called me their own personal angel, named Daniel. THAT is worth more than any paycheck! Thank You, God!
85 AND ALONE
85 year-old Sam was discharged, but no one came to get him. I spent a great deal of time with Sam. He appreciated the attention. He called me his angel, sent from God - the same words I had heard the night before. I am not an angel, but I wouldn't be surprised if one was with Sam and me. Because Sam had nowhere to go (he was homeless), in the middle of the night we re-admitted him. In the morning he would have to leave, however. But, for the night, he had a ball. He asked for a sandwich and a couple of drinks and sat down to watch his own personal TV in our TCU ward. This was obviously quite a treat for Sam, and none of us minded one bit.
On this same evening, we had two more deaths. I showed both bodies to each of the families. It never gets any easier.
A TROUBLED YOUNG WOMAN
I was asked to get some information from a young woman. She would not tell the triage nurses what her name was. She cried when asked. Finally, I asked her if she could write her name and address on a piece of paper, and she did! I asked her if she was hurt or sick. She said she was nauseous. That was all she would give us. Finally, I asked her if she had been assaulted. She nodded her head yes, and then cried uncontrollably. I asked her if she wanted us to contact her parents, she said no. I asked her how old she was. She said she was 24. She began to talk a little now. She told me that she lived on French Road, in Detroit. I told her that I lived on French Road when I was a baby. She smiled! She actually smiled. Thank You, Lord, for giving me some common ground, so that I might communicate with this troubled, young lady. I called my daughter, Tammy, and asked her to pray for this young woman. Finally, she was taken to an emergency physician. She asked me to join her. I did, at least for introductions. I said, "God bless you." She said the same to me. I think she was beginning to feel a lot better.
A CALL FOR HELP
A patient named Deborah asked to use a phone. I was called to talk to her and offer my phone. Patients' phones are not allowed in the Emergency Department. She was much relieved after making her call. She asked me to check in on her once in a while. I said I would.
As happens often, a nearby patient asked me to speak to her as well. Her name was Paula. She said that she had been there for 12 hours and was in a lot of pain. She had not yet contacted anyone from her family (she was very concerned about her 6 year-old son). She gave me a phone number so that I could call her brother. She continued to cry. I told her that God was with her, and I prayed with her. She was very appreciative. She asked me to check in on her when I got the chance, and she asked me, please, not to forget.
I said, "Don't worry, Paula, I will be here for you all night." I said that I would be happy to stop by as long as she needed me. When I got back to my desk, I looked her up. I discovered that she was an ATTEMPTED SUICIDE!
I learned something very valuable today: never underestimate the emotional stability of someone who is crying out for help. Paula spent 12 hours in our Emergency Department without talking to anyone, and without contacting any friends or relatives - all of this after attempting to take her own life. Thank You, God, for sending me to Deborah, so that I might find Paula.
Doctors and nurses know me well now. My greatest fear was that they might resent me, because I had no health services background. But they recognize that I am on a mission of "caring." One of our doctors said to me, "You are just what the doctor ordered." They are very appreciative of how I work with the patients and their families, and with our staff. I am welcome anywhere in the Emergency Department and in the hospital, in general. I thank God for this incredible opportunity and blessing. It is a GIFT to be able to help others. This is all part of God's plan. I could never have dreamed of being in this position.
A GOOD MAN
Today, a young man died on his 47th birthday. There were over 30 family members present. Most of them wanted to view the body (my largest crowd ever). There are many concerns with that many people involved in the viewing, as you might expect. The rule is usually only next of kin, and no more than 5 people. But the Lead Nurse and I decided that we could handle it. I had been with the family for two hours prior to the man's death so I felt that I knew them well, and that hopefully they would follow my lead. We all prayed together, and then I took them for the viewing. It went very well. Based on the composure of this family, I know that the man who died must have been a very good man. I told his family what I thought of them. There were many hugs. The grieving begins, but perhaps the helping hand of God will reassure them.
WISER THAN HER AGE
I sat with a 14 year-old girl named Amber for over an hour, between 3:00 and 4:00 AM. Her mother was drunk and fell off a second floor balcony. Mother and daughter lived alone (together). All other family members lived out-of-state. The young girl had no family to turn to, and she couldn't stay with her mother who was about to be admitted into the hospital. I finally contacted a neighbor at 4:00 AM who came to get Amber. It was a happy ending. We were told that the mother would be fine.
Amber and I talked and talked. She is a very wise girl. Because of her hard life, she seemed to have a wisdom about her that far exceeded her age. She told me that she wanted to be a doctor. God willing, I think she might.
Excerpted from Daniel in the Lion's Den by Daniel William Heard Copyright © 2011 by Daniel William Heard. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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