No one can deny the importance of skilled, qualified nurses in sustaining and improving patients' lives. But sometimes, it's also just as important for them to help patients die happy.
When a Salem Hospital nurse overheard her terminal patient speaking with her daughter about a wedding, her ears perked.
Decorating and hosting parties are Laura Peterson's hobby and forte, she said. And seeing that her cancer patient, Sherri West, had little time left to see her daughter get married, she took action.
Sherri's daughter, Sarah West, and Ethan Schowalter-Hay had been a long-time couple, but wedding planning had fallen by the wayside. Enter nurse Peterson.
"I think every little girl dreams of her wedding day and it being perfect," said Peterson, a registered oncology nurse at Salem Hospital. "But it's also a mother's dream. Every momma wants to see her little girl get married."
Peterson knew that time was running out, so she rallied her colleagues, friends and acquaintances. On Feb. 1, Sherri's daughter Sarah and Ethan were wed in a hospital conference room with a sweeping view of Salem.
The plans fell into place in three days. A bridal gallery donated the gown and the groom's tuxedo. A salon offered its makeup and hair styling services. The hospital's palliative care and social services team secured the event venue and a chaplain, making sure Sherri had everything she needed to participate and stay comfortable.
Days later, Sherri died. Her family declined to be interviewed for the story, but this week Salem Health released a video story about the wedding. The video is available for viewing at YouTube.
"It is just awe-inspiring to see the power of kindness that has come through in this," the bride said in the video.
Peterson was later honored with the DAISY Award, an international program that recognizes excellence in nursing.
There are plenty of examples of nurses going above and beyond their duties for patients, Peterson says, especially in her unit.
Because many patients in the oncology unit are not expected to survive, if there's anything nurses can do to grant a wish, they'll do it, she said.
Last summer, for example, one man said all he wanted was to sit outside in the sunshine and drink Coca-Cola from a glass bottle.
Typically, Peterson said, that's not an easy or a recommended task, since critical patients need a lot of care and equipment that require them to stay inside their hospital rooms.
"But in oncology, if it's their dying wish, we're going to do everything in our capacity to make that happen," Peterson said.
So they arranged an outing for the man to go out in the courtyard on a sunny day with his life-sustaining equipment and an ice chest full of Coca-Cola.
Sherri summed up her reaction to the hospital's gift in four simple words and a smile.
"I can die happy ... I can die happy," she said.