Jessica Bernard, RN, Inspires Another Chapter

Registered Nurse helps terminally ill patient and learns important life lesson

CVPH People - Everday Extraordinary

One smile can start a friendship, one person can change your life, and time is precious.  Jessica Bernard, RN carries that lesson with her every day because she has been witness to it. Currently working in The UVM Health Network – Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital Post Anesthesia Care Unit, and previously in Interventional Radiology (IR), she met the man who would teach her this most important lesson.

Using advanced technology and high quality imaging, Interventional Radiologists are able to provide minimally invasive therapies for a variety of vascular and nonvascular diseases including cancer. Jessica’s patient was terminal and the procedure he was having was one in a series that could give him a few extra months to live.  It was a long, grueling procedure - one that would pair the two for several hours.

Their initial meeting did not go well.  Frustrated by delays, the patient was getting ready to leave when she entered the exam room.  “I introduced myself and tried to explain what had caused the delays.  Because he was going to need a ride home after the procedure, I asked if he had one. He angrily responded that his wife would drive him home but that her time was valuable and he did not want her to wait all day for him.” The vehemence of his response jolted her.  “I knew it was going to be a long day.”

A second attempt to engage was made as she wheeled her patient to Room 8 – the hub of IR activity.  Noticing a slight accent, Jessica asked where he was from and his response, although short, was not as angry.  Progress.

As Jessica was preparing her patient for the procedure, she continued to chat and ask questions. His anger dissipated and it was then that she learned he was a published author. He was in the final stages of editing a third book – part of a trilogy.

She realized her patient was not ready to die – he had unfinished business and needed for his third book to be published before he passed.

With the IR procedure complete, the next step was confirming the placement of the radioactive tracer using nuclear imaging.   Five minutes before completing this step, the patient begged to stop. He could not lie on his back any longer.  “I explained that laying still was important because he had a groin puncture as part of his IR procedure.  And to quit now would mean he was had to repeat the entire IR procedure.” Again, he pleaded to stop.  “With tears in my eyes I remember telling him, ‘you’ve come this far. After three hours in Room 8 there are just two and half minutes left here. You didn’t just go through all of that for nothing. I know you can make it...I know time is very important to you. I’m not ready to let you throw away a possible six months of life over two and half minutes.”

Jessica said that she and Janine Holdridge, the Nuclear Medicine Technologist conducting the imaging, began talking about his books and that was enough to distract him. Together, they got through the final stages of the imaging.

In recovery, the man opened up even more and Jessica learned more about his life, family and work.  She went home, ordered his books and began reading as promised.

On the day of his next procedure, Jessica greeted her patient in the Ambulatory Care Unit with a copy of his book and he handed her an envelope.  The bond of friendship was secured.  In the envelope, was a sheet that included the dedication to his final book:

“Many experience a single personal contact at a trying time in life which leaves an indelible mark on this life. Such has been the case with Registered Nurse Jessica Bernard during my recent hospital stay which deserves mention directly related to the publishing of this book.”

“He had told me on the way to IR for this second procedure that if it weren’t for working with me and those infamous two and half minutes, he wouldn’t have come back after the first procedure.

Growing weaker because of his disease, the procedures ceased but the two continued to communicate via email - discussing his book and his characters. The third book was published and she was able to discuss the characters and plot of the final book with her patient. She learned that a fourth book was planned but abandoned after his preliminary diagnosis.  A few months later, the patient passed away.

“There are many days I think about him and how I have grown since providing nursing care to him. There will always be something to learn,” she said. She knows the power of a personal connection and a heartfelt smile – they promoted a lengthier life with quality in which her patient was able to fulfill his last wish.