Her gratitude for something so simple made my day!
I am a nurse, employed in the perianesthesia area at the same hospital for more than 30 years. Throughout those years, I have witnessed a multitude of nurse anesthetists come and go for a variety of reasons. For many of them, I grieved when they left. In all honesty, when a few of them moved on, I was actually glad they no longer had a presence in my work environment. Among those I can never forget is a nurse anesthetist named Crystal (not her real name). Although Crystal was extremely intelligent and always conscientious when caring for her patients, she had her ways. She was known to have somewhat of an “attitude” and could sometimes be demanding of and demeaning to others.
Several years ago, a few days before Christmas, Crystal gave me, to my surprise, a gift. She told me she knew how much I liked to knit and gave me a canvas tote bag that said, “Nursing is my Bag.” I felt badly I did not have a gift for her. That evening, I found a scarf I had knitted, placed it in a box, and wrapped it. Because I had run out of gift labels, I selected a holiday card and hastily jotted a brief note on it. I wrote: “Crystal, you are the finest of the finest in your profession. Whenever I send my patients to surgery and you are their anesthetist, I never worry about them because I know they are in the best of hands.”
Not long afterward, Crystal came to me with tears in her eyes. She hugged me and told me the words on that card were the best Christmas present she had received that year. Her gratitude for something so simple made my day, and I was happy I had written that note.
A couple of months later, I received a phone call from an OR nurse who was hysterical. She said, “Crystal is dead. She drowned in her bathtub!” For some reason, my first thought was about the words I had written on that greeting card. When I came to work the next day and the news about Crystal was shared, a few staff members expressed guilt about their feelings toward her. Although I never mentioned the card to anyone else, I felt a sense of peace because I had told her what she meant to my patients and me.
Crystal’s death still remains a mystery. Ever since that day, the tote bag she gave me has been tucked away in a drawer. I will always cherish it. What I learned from her loss I will carry with me for the rest of my nursing career. Every holiday season, I give a card to each of my nursing peers. Whether or not they are among my favorite people, I think about the strongest asset they possess and write a note to them. I can only hope that my heartfelt words have as much meaning to them as they did to Crystal.
Joy Shiller, MS, RN, CAPA, is a clinical mentor and pre-op nurse at Houston Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas, USA.