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Dealing With the Death of a Medical Practice Co-Worker

Dealing With the Death of a Medical Practice Co-Worker

Three weeks ago was one of the best weeks in private practice that I can remember in a very long time. The nurses were all working very well together, there was no strain from the front desk staff adding patients to our schedule and the overall mood of the office was very high. As is my usual practice, I distribute the much anticipated yearend "Christmas bonus" to my employees either the week of or the week following Thanksgiving. I know that they can use the extra money for either paying off bills or Christmas shopping. They work hard and I am able to reward their efforts.

Just after the checks were distributed, my nurse of eight years asked me to step back to the break room. There stood all my employees wearing large smiles on their faces saying, "Merry Christmas Doctor." It was odd for me to receive my Christmas gift from my employees in early December. More significantly was my nurse, "nurse" as I will call her, as she had the largest smile of everyone there. I did not understand the true significance, unfortunately, until the day following.

My family and I had decided to travel from our home in southwestern Virginia to visit my sister and her family in Richmond. Since the drive was expected to take six hours, we elected to leave early on Thursday afternoon. Things seemed to be doing very well and I noted that I had not received any problem calls from my office during our travel. It seemed like such a perfect week. I was able to work a short week and have a long weekend, and in my busy private practice it was a much welcomed rest.

As my family went to breakfast on Friday morning, I received a phone call from my nurse practitioner. As I prepared to answer the call, I had braced myself for the news of a patient that was acutely ill and being sent to the ER or maybe possibly one of the girls didn't come in to work. Unfortunately, one of my girls did not come in to work that day. It was my nurse of eight years and she had died earlier that morning peacefully in her sleep.

To say the least, I was shocked and very upset. As my family went into the restaurant for breakfast, I stayed outside and simply cried. My nurse was one of my first two employees. She was with me from day one. My nurse was specifically chosen to be my nurse at the recommendation of my mother. When I was 18 months old, my mother was badly burned and spent over two months in the hospital recovering from her burns. One of her nurses was fresh out of school and was particularly caring. It was my mother's nurse that I had chosen to be my nurse, at the recommendation of my mother of course.

Over the past eight years, my nurse was like a mother to me at work. She had a beautiful way of caring for our patients and was truly loved and appreciated by everyone. In that period of time, you can become very attached to someone. She would remind me to get my annual flu shot and was always ready to give my weekly allergy shot. She would remind me to not become too focused on my work and to always remember that God comes first and family comes second. She was very quick to remind me to schedule vacation time. When she would experience family stresses or family illnesses, I would often stay late with her after work and pray for her and offer an ear to listen.

The week following her death was very difficult for all of us in the office. We all went to work on Monday not really wanting to be there, but knew that we had patients to care for. As each patient came in, they expressed their sympathy to our staff and to my nurse's family. Since my practice opened in 2003 we have had a very high patient retention rate and all of my patients were very saddened to hear of my nurse's passing. I did very well with maintaining my composure for the most part, but when my patients would describe one of their most cherished memories of my nurse, I could only sit there and cry while I listened. I pray every day with my patients, but that particular week found my patients praying for me and my nurse's family.

This past week has been one of the saddest weeks of my life. However, as a physician that cares for patients on a daily basis, I have felt the love and appreciation from my patients more so this week than any other time in my life. I have never before felt so blessed. I will eventually hire another nurse for the office, but I will never be able to replace "my nurse."

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