To the heads of Patient Services, Radiology Department, Orthopedic Surgery and Surgical Recovery, My apologies for the delay in sending this letter, as it is long overdue. However, I’m only now able to reflect back on this past year without withering into a puddle of tears.
A year ago, on cold October day, my beloved 93 year old grandmother, Maria Nacinovich, fell. She and I had an especially close relationship and I was the only one she’d allow to call the ambulance and, eventually, take her to White Plains Hospital. Once we got to the Emergency Room, I was greeted by your phenomenal ER staff. My grandmother only spoke Italian, so I served as her translator as well as her health proxy.
Once she went through triage, an x-ray of her hip was ordered. I was terrified that my nightmare had finally come true….that my grandmother, after living independently for 93 years and taken several small falls over the years, finally broke her hip. I knew in that moment how serious the situation could potentially be. The elderly seldom are able to make a full recovery, if any, after such a severe fracture.
As soon as radiology tech Russell came into my grandmother’s room with his portable x-ray machine, I immediately felt at ease. With a kind and compassionate smile, Russ looked at my grandmother, then at me, and said, “Let’s see what’s going on, ladies.” My fragile, achy grandmother winced in pain as she was moved into positions to properly get a good image. Russ, hearing me speak to my grandmother in Italian, spoke a few words to her in Italian. He apologized that she was in pain and promised her that it’d be over as soon as he could. I was completely taken aback. After feeling so alone in a difficult, heart wrenching and stressful moment, I no longer felt alone. Russ was there. He helped me talk my grandmother through every step of the imaging process.
While he was making sure he had a good image, I told him how close I was to my grandmother. He made me feel comfortable in sharing a few stories about his own grandmother. Love and ease filled the room. With my grandmother finally calmed down and her eyes closed, I looked at her leg. It was bent in and at an angle in a way it shouldn’t be, I began to weep. I knew that this was it. The beginning of her end. I was finally here. After being at my grandmother’s side through breast cancer and with her continuing age, I knew the time had come. I softly, barely, whispered, “She’s not going home. This is it. She will never live alone again. And one day sooner than I will be prepared for, I’ll have to say goodbye.” Russ hugged me at that moment. A hug I will never forget. It was almost as if he was transferring strength from him to me. Strength that I desperately needed. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Whatever happens, you’ll get through this. It will be okay. And I’m here if you need anything.” Another hug.
When we finally got word that she had indeed broken her hip, I had the ability to stay calm and collected because of Russ’s words of compassion and encouragement. My grandmother was admitted and had surgery with the talented and phenomenal Dr. Don Oh. After Dr. Oh and his fantastic team performed the surgery on my grandmother’s hip, she was taken to the surgical recovery wing. In her final months and days, my grandmother would comment that she was never better taken care of in her entire life than the way she was with Russ at the ER, Dr. Oh in the OR, and the nurses in the surgical recovery unit. In fact, on the day my grandmother was discharged, she cried as she didn’t want to leave. She was being so well taken care of and with such gentleness and kindness.
Her time in rehabilitation was short. She only lived for another 4 months, but together we celebrated her 94th birthday. She’d often reflect back on her life. She’d speak of surviving World War 2 in Croatia/Italy, immigrating to the United States, and becoming a widow while raising and caring for her two children and later doting on her two granddaughters. Her last reflection would be on White Plains Hospital and how kind and gentle everyone was. “What a wonderful place. With wonderful people.”, she’d say.
Our hard days didn’t end with that momentous night at White Plains Hospital. Eventually, I’d have to fill out the paperwork for her to receive hospice services. I had to sign a DNR for her. While those were perhaps the most painful moments I’ve had to live through, I found strength within me. I’d think back to that time in the ER. That hug. Those words of encouragement. That strength that was somehow transferred to me by Russ. I will never forget it. It helped me be a better granddaughter to my grandmother as she encountered her final sunset.
Again, while it’s long overdue, I wanted to share with you all my story. While it’s not a patient story (I’m not the patient), it’s an important one to share. My profound gratitude to those mentioned above for going above and beyond what anyone would expect one to. Your kindness, skill, compassion and care were much appreciated by my family and I.