Ahhhh. Father’s Day memories. I could take a guess that’s a tie in the box I’m holding here for my dad. Or maybe a sleeve of golf balls in disguise.
Yes, Father’s Day is a special time to remind Dad what he means to you. For many, Sunday may include lunch or a round of golf. Perhaps an offer to mow the grass.
For others, like me, Father’s Day is a time to reflect on a life gone too soon.
My father was my hero. As an architect, he designed buildings that changed lives. As a veteran, he fought in the Korean War and saved lives. As a father, he built a foundation that shaped lives.
“Stan the Man,” as he was fondly referred, led a life that was full. Yet, it was the end of his life that led me to the world of nursing. Following a five-year remission from multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, he came for a visit to Indianapolis from Kansas. I hadn’t seen him for a year. The occasion was my brother’s wedding. He wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
As I watched for him to come down the airport terminal, I waited for the big wave and infectious smile from the handsome fella from Kansas. Instead, I saw a man being pushed in a wheelchair. His face was ashen and his cheeks were hollow. He still managed a wink and a smile. Although he had done a good job disguising it over the phone, there was no hiding. The cancer was back.
After some convincing, I took him to St.Vincent Hospital. My suspicions were confirmed. Not only was the cancer back, but it had spread throughout his body. It was only a matter of time before it would take his life. Days, weeks, a month tops.
The good doctors at St.Vincent were able to get him feeling well enough for a weekend furlough to attend his son’s wedding, and we did.
The next 24 days were spent on the oncology unit, and ultimately the inpatient hospice unit. This is where I knew my life would never be the same. However, what I thought would be a very terrifying and sad ordeal, turned into a spiritual journey.
I couldn’t have traveled that road without the staff at St.Vincent. Particularly all the nurses. I called them my angels in scrubs. It wasn’t just about the clinical care, which was superb. Myeloma cells cause damage to the bones, which becomes extremely painful. More than anything else, I didn’t want my dad to hurt. The nurses made sure he was comfortable.
In fact, the nurses encouraged laughter, silliness, even arranged for slumber parties with my dad and sister. They helped me beat him in Scrabble games. They each had their own little nicknames for him. They reinforced this wasn’t just a patient. He was my dad.
The call came from one of the nurses in the wee hours of the morning. “Kris, it’s close. I think Stan the Man is ready to go.”
The drive was a blur. I arrived at the hospital and sprinted to my dad’s room. The nurses and chaplain were waiting for me. And thank God, so was my dad. As I held his hand, I reminded him how much he was loved and would be missed. I also told him it was okay to go. My mom, sister and brothers and I would always take care of each other. With that sentence, he squeezed my hand and took his last breath.
I remember one of my favorite nurses leaning over to hug me as I hugged my dad. I felt her tears on my cheek. “Take all the time you need.”
I knew in that instant that I would one day work in healthcare. I couldn’t imagine any other job on earth with a bigger shot at making a difference. I had to pay forward the compassion the staff and nurses at St.Vincent paid to me. The seed was planted.
The seed sprouted when I gave birth to my son, a child I was told I could never have. And yes, I was once again surrounded by St.Vincent nurses. Less than two years later, my daughter entered the world.
Experiencing this circle of life became the motivation to make a career move, and later that year I went to work in nurse recruitment at St.Vincent. This led me to my current mission with Marian University School of Nursing. My role is not only to build awareness of our accelerated nursing program, but to share the rewards of a nursing career.
And so this Father’s Day, not only do I celebrate my dad. I celebrate nurses and nursing students everywhere who are taking care of someone’s dad today. God bless all of you.
Note: If you would like to donate blood and help save lives, join us June 25th for our blood drive. Click here for more information.
Kris Shallenberger serves as the director of community and corporate relations for the Marian University for St.Vincent Health ABSN Program. Sign up now for a site tour or to attend one of her information sessions. Kris can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by requesting information here.