Angel sculpture on grave marker

photo by author

Marcy Phipps, BSN, RN, CCRN, ATCN, TNCC, an ICU nurse who recently took up flight nursing, is an occasional contributor to this blog.

I recently experienced a series of events that seemed interconnected and orchestrated.

It started with my usual morning run. I was jogging out of my neighborhood, already sweating in the summer heat and absorbed—coincidentally—in an audio podcast about trauma care, when I came upon a man sprawled in the middle of a usually very busy thoroughfare. His motorcycle, badly damaged, was lying on its side next to a car with a crumpled door panel. The accident had clearly just occurred—traffic hadn’t yet backed up and no sirens could be heard heralding imminent assistance.

I had the weird sensation that I’d been running to the accident all along. I held his C-spine and monitored his neuro status while an off-duty paramedic managed the scene. Unexpectedly, a cardiologist I sometimes work with emerged from a nearby café and held his fingers to the man’s radial pulse, and then several more off-duty paramedics arrived.

It seemed fortuitous to me at the time—not the accident, of course, but the proximity of medical personnel who were so quickly available. And I had the impression that, despite not having worn a helmet, the motorcycle rider would be okay. He was talking to me, after all, and I didn’t see any obvious deformities or signs of severe injury.

About a week later, with the motorcyclist (and a shred of doubt) in the back of my mind, I glanced through the obituary section of the local paper. I should say that I almost never read the newspaper. When I do, I don’t look at the obituaries. And yet, on this rare occasion, I saw that not only had the motorcyclist succumbed to his injuries several days after his accident, but also that a patient with whom I’d developed a friendship several years ago had died, and that his memorial service was the following day.

I had never before considered going to a patient’s memorial service. This situation, though, was different. I’d written an essay for this blog last year about this patient, in which I explored the awkwardness I felt when providing nursing care to a man so often that we’d become friends. And though I’d lost touch with him after he was transferred to a long-term care facility, I’d come to know his family throughout his hospitalization and wanted to pay my respects. I was afraid my appearance would be awkward, but as it turned out, it wasn’t at all.

I was relaying the series of events to my brother, musing about the timing of my morning run, the way the appearance of the paramedics and cardiologist on the scene seemed almost conjured, the surprise I felt that the motorcyclist had died and my surety that if I hadn’t looked at the obituaries on that day, I would probably never have known that he had passed away, and that my friend had died as well. I told him that the death of both men, although completely unrelated, would be forever linked in my mind.

My brother, after listening carefully, said, “You know, you can look at it spiritually, or you can call it synchronicity, but I think people and events are connected in ways we aren’t always aware of. ”

His statement put into words the feelings I’d had when I was sitting in the pew at my friend’s memorial. I’d thought I couldn’t be his friend, and yet I was. And he was mine, as well, on a higher level that goes beyond defined nurse–patient boundaries I’d previously considered crucially important. It was a stroke of insight I attributed to the seemingly connected events of the week.

But the real connection, I know, has nothing to do with the timing of my run, finding an obituary, or attending a memorial. The connection is nursing, the perspective it affords, and the wisdom I find through practicing the profession.

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