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January 2, 2020

'Did you know I was there?' One nurse's viral letter to a dying patient.

Daily Briefing

    In a now-viral Facebook post written to a patient who died, Sandra Kluskowski, a nurse at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana, describes her last moments with the patient and asks lingering questions she has about how the patient felt as death drew near.

    The viral post

    In the post, Kluskowski says she was originally "just another voice … gathering all information so [she] would know more about" the patient. "I greeted you in a comforting voice," she writes. "I hope it wasn't too loud or maybe it was too quiet … Did you know I was there?"

    Kluskowski says she entered the room after gathering everything she needed to help the patient get cleaned up. "I tried to take my time," she writes. "I didn't need to verbally hear you say you were in pain, your moans were enough and I understood clearly."

    Eventually, the doctor said "we have done all that we can do," Kluskowski recalls. "If only you could have heard my thoughts."

    Even though Kluskowski had known the patient for just one day, she writes, "I didn't want you to go."

    Kluskowski recalls how the family cried when they visited the patient. "Sobs and tears filled your room, but the machines could be heard in the background, reminding us all that they were keeping the little life that was in you going. Did you hear me ask your loved ones if they needed anything?
    I just wanted to help in any way that I could."

    Eventually, when the doctors said it was time to let the patient go, Kluskowski wrote that she felt "scared," adding, "could you tell?"

    Kluskowski said her "hands were trembling" as she told the patient about what would come next.  

    "I talked about my kids, I figured you would understand because you were a parent … I giggled but honestly I just wanted to cry," she said. "Did you see how I kept looking up at the ceiling to hold back tears … It felt like I couldn't breathe. Did you know I was there?"

    As Kluskowski prepared the patient, she noticed the patient's body started to stiffen and temperature drop. "I kept telling you how sorry I was … I told you how good you did." Kluskowski then rolled the patient to the side and "let the last of the air out from [their] lungs."

    "As I combed [through] your hair my thoughts were on your family," she says. "How much they loved you … Did you hear me whisper to you two hours prior to your passing that … YOU are truly loved?"

    She goes on to say that even though she just met the patient, she felt "love for someone [she] barely even knew." She writes, "I can't explain it."

    Kluskowski concludes the post by saying she hopes all her patients know she did her best.

    "I wanted more than ever for you to feel comfortable and safe all the way to the moment I covered you with a sheet and turned and closed the door behind me as quietly as possible as if to say ... I'm letting you rest," she said. "I only wish I knew that you knew I was there. I wish I could thank you!"

    Even though this wasn't the first time she had to lay a patient to rest, Kluskowski said she knew that she would "fall apart" after leaving the hospital.

    "Please know that I am a strong person and my level of compassion excels any inch of unkindness," she said. "I'm only human, I feel fearful and get scared and yes I cry. I only hope to have others be able to relate to the feelings I have about situations we are going through in the moment."

    Inspiration behind the post

    Kluskowski in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" said she wrote the post because she is sometimes the last person a dying patient sees. As a result, the hardest part of her job is often "leaving for the day and wondering whatever happened to that person, and just hoping that if they are not still in the bed I last saw them in, then hoping and praying they made it home."

    She said that her heart often "hurts over the loss of someone's loved ones." She said, "I try to do what I can when it comes to providing the care they need before and after death" (Chan, AOL, 12/27/19; Shaw Brown, "Good Morning America," ABC, 12/27/19; Facebook post, 12/5/19).

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