Nurses in Denmark benevolently broke their hospital’s regulations last week to grant a 75-year-old man his dying wish. After doctors at Aarhus University Hospital told Carsten Flemming Hansen that he was too sick for surgery and would die within days from internal bleeding following an aortic aneurysm, he revealed the final thing he wanted to do. And that was to smoke a cigarette and drink a glass of cold white wine outside, while watching the sun set. According to a post on the hospital’s Facebook account, nurses wheeled Hansen out onto a balcony on a bed last Tuesday and broke the building’s strict no-smoking policy by allowing him to light up. He then enjoyed a spectacular sunset as he sipped his drink, surrounded by close family and friends.
I’ve always harbored a tremendous admiration for nurses. For one, it’s a job I could never do; it’s just way too much humanity for me. Then there’s the whole suffering and death thing, which leaves me cold. It takes a special kind of person to be a nurse, and I’m blessed to know several. By way of full disclosure, I should disclose that I’m married to a nurse practitioner. Erin works in an oncology clinic, meaning virtually every day she informs people their disease will kill them. Doing that day in day out takes a tremendous amount of inner strength.
The other aspect of nursing I admire is the collective commitment to kindness and compassion. I’ve known a fair number of nurses in my time. To a person, they possess an impressive capacity for easing the suffering of others. This story is but one example of the kindness and compassion nurses all over the world display every day. Nurses have a tough job, one they perform with a consistently high degree of competence, grace, and tenderness. They also have a pretty good handle on knowing when breaking the rules is the right thing to do.
Rules are necessary to keep things in order, and in most instances should be respected. There are situations in which rules just get in the way of doing the right things. In this case, nurses at Aarhus University Hospital decided to break the rules because it was the decent and compassionate thing to do. All Carsten Flemming Hansen wanted was to enjoy one last cigarette and a glass of wine before he died, not the sort of thing you’d normally be allowed in a hospital.
This gesture is commendable but not at all unusual. It’s representative of the sort of kindness and compassion nurses extend to their patients every day. They do so without expectation of recognition or applause, which makes it even more special. We should be grateful for those who become nurses, if for no other reason than we’ll all need one someday.