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To the Nurses Who Cared for My Dying Wife: “How Many Times Did You Check on Me? How Many Times Did You Hug Me?”

After his 34-year-old wife, Laura, suffered a devastating asthma attack that later killed her, Peter DeMarco turned tragedy into thanksgiving. DeMarco, who is a writer in Boston, wrote a letter to those who cared for the couple and helped him cope — the staff at Cambridge Hospital’s intensive care unit.

The grieving husband particularly emphasized the care the staff took in orchestrating their “last hour” together, a moment he says he’ll cherish for the rest of his life:

“As I begin to tell my friends and family about the seven days you treated my wife, Laura Levis, in what turned out to be the last days of her young life, they stop me at about the 15th name that I recall. The list includes the doctors, nurses, respiratory specialists, social workers, even cleaning staff members who cared for her.

‘How do you remember any of their names?’ they ask.

How could I not, I respond.

Every single one of you treated Laura with such professionalism, and kindness, and dignity as she lay unconscious. When she needed shots, you apologized that it was going to hurt a little, whether or not she could hear. When you listened to her heart and lungs through your stethoscopes, and her gown began to slip, you pulled it up to respectfully cover her. You spread a blanket, not only when her body temperature needed regulating, but also when the room was just a little cold, and you thought she’d sleep more comfortably that way.

You cared so greatly for her parents, helping them climb into the room’s awkward recliner, fetching them fresh water almost by the hour, and by answering every one of their medical questions with incredible patience. My father-in-law, a doctor himself as you learned, felt he was involved in her care. I can’t tell you how important that was to him.

Then, there was how you treated me. How would I have found the strength to have made it through that week without you?

How many times did you walk into the room to find me sobbing, my head down, resting on her hand, and quietly go about your task, as if willing yourselves invisible? How many times did you help me set up the recliner as close as possible to her bedside, crawling into the mess of wires and tubes around her bed in order to swing her forward just a few feet?

How many times did you check in on me to see whether I needed anything, from food to drink, fresh clothes to a hot shower, or to see whether I needed a better explanation of a medical procedure, or just someone to talk to?

How many times did you hug me and console me when I fell to pieces, or ask about Laura’s life and the person she was, taking the time to look at her photos or read the things I’d written about her? How many times did you deliver bad news with compassionate words, and sadness in your eyes?

When I needed to use a computer for an emergency email, you made it happen. When I smuggled in a very special visitor, our tuxedo cat, Cola, for one final lick of Laura’s face, you “didn’t see a thing.”

Kelsey Straeter
Kelsey Straeter
Kelsey is an editor at Outreach. She’s passionate about fear fighting, freedom writing, and the pursuit of excellence in the name of crucifying perfectionism. Glitter is her favorite color, 2nd only to pink, and 3rd only to pink glitter.

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