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Patient Issues Author: Staff Editor Last Updated: Jan 3, 2018 - 2:28:50 PM

Care Team Honors Dying Patient’s Last Minutes of Life

By Staff Editor
Jan 3, 2018 - 2:24:31 PM

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( - Life as a care provider on 6 Mary Brigh at the Saint Marys campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester is not for the faint of heart. "Many of our patients come to us very critically ill," says Janelle Wozniak, a registered nurse on the floor's medical intensive care unit.

To support patients who are in their final days, the unit recently tried something new. Two "support carts" were filled with items that staff hope will bring a bit of comfort to patients and their families. The carts include prayer shawls, warm socks, prayer stones, games and other activities. And not long ago, one more item was added to that list.

It came about early one morning, when a prayer shawl from the support cart was placed over a patient whose health was declining. "He lit up because he thought it was an American flag," Wozniak tells us. "After we explained what it was, he told us he was a veteran and that he'd love to have a flag laid on top of him as he passed."

That's all Wozniak and others in her unit, including fellow nurses Chris Noll and Jared Brugger, needed to hear. "We'd never had that request before, and I think it's an awesome request," Wozniak says. "And so I was like, 'We have to make this happen. We have to be able to find a flag somewhere here on campus.'"

They didn't let the fact that it was 5 a.m. stop them. Wozniak began working the phones, calling other units throughout Mayo Clinic, while Noll set off on a flag hunt as well. Brugger stayed at the patient's bedside. "Before he left, Chris said, 'I don't care if I have to take one off of my own front porch, we're finding a flag for this patient,'" Wozniak tells us.

About 60 minutes later, Wozniak was connected to Mayo Clinic groundskeeper Todd Ness. "He was awesome," Wozniak says. "I told him the whole story and he said, 'We'll do everything we can.'"

A short while later, Ness was hand-delivering a new American flag to the unit. "It was their backup flag," Wozniak says. "It was the only backup they had for the entire institution. I asked if I needed to buy it from them or if they needed it back and he said, 'No, it's yours.' And then he left."

Brugger, who had been caring for the patient for three days, tells us the patient and his family were "ecstatic" when the flag was placed over him. "Everyone cried," Brugger says. "The patient then requested that the flag be given to his wife after he passed."

Both of the unit's support carts now include flags to give to military veteran patients, thanks to the husband of another care team member. After hearing the story, he and his "Navy buddies" got together to purchase and anonymously donate flags for the carts.

Wozniak says that's just one more "cool" angle to an already "incredibly cool" story. "This whole thing was just such a wonderful experience and clearly one where multiple units throughout Mayo Clinic worked together to do what was best, and right, for the patient," she tells us.

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