Laughing at Death


Hearing “You’re going to love this patient” in ER nurse sign-out can go one of two ways. Fortunately, tonight is the good kind. My colleague and I finish report at Harriet’s bedside and when I say “Hi, I’m Adam.” she laughs and says, “Do you know the first thing Adam said to Eve in the Garden of Eden? Backwards or forwards, it says the same thing”. I reply, “Madam, I’m Adam” and she starts laughing until she’s wheezing. There’s nothing I love more than corny jokes and I’ve just met the queen of them!

Harriet came in early this morning in respiratory distress due to CHF. A brief stint on BiPap and 80 mg of Lasix got her through and now she’s boarding until a cardiology bed opens. Harriet is 91 years old, tenacious but kind, frail but bold, sick but in possession of great vitality; she is a gem.

I become well acquainted with Harriet over the next several hours. She was born in North Carolina where she lived until she was 13 years old then she moved north to our city. She’s lived in our hospital’s community since. Her father was a Baptist minister and her mother stayed home raising Harriet and her 10 siblings. “My father always kept us laughing telling his jokes. I got my sense of humor from him”. Most of her jokes are Biblically based and I’ve heard most of them:

Why couldn’t Noah play poker on the ark? Because of the cheetahs!

How long did Cain hate his brother? As long as he was Abel!

Do you  know how Moses makes tea? Hebrews it!

Harriet provides me with snippets of her life throughout our interactions and I’m amazed by her. She is so positive despite the struggles and challenges she’s faced; she is articulate in expressing how tough times always turn out for the good. This opens the opportunity for me to discuss her wishes should she need resuscitation and she makes those very clear. “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens!” She doesn’t want CPR or intubation. She says, “I’m ready to meet my Maker. I’ve had a great life and all those things you people do are just keeping me from Him”.

Harriet is finally assigned a bed and I lead off nurse to nurse report with “You’re going to love this patient!” Our tech rolls by with Harriet to take her upstairs and I come around the desk to say goodbye. She grabs my arm and pulls me down for a hug and kiss. She says, “One more before I go. Do you know the second thing Adam said to Eve?” I don’t and she replies with a wink, “Stand back lady, I’m not sure how big this thing is going to get!”

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