They taught me how to live

My goal was to be able to do something I wasn't sure I could do…

Hi, my name's Clarice Maggio I've been a nurse at the University of Pennsylvania hospital for 38 years, currently working at the Abramson Cancer Center, and I'm very close to retiring.

There's many stories that I have. There’s quite a few that affect your life and in some ways that can even change your life. Every day could turn out to be really serendipitous or it could be really tragic.

People always say to me, how do you do that? And you know it's not always bad news. I've seen people who were literally being wheeled out to hospice who are golfing today because of the therapies and the relentless passion. And that's something that you can't find in a regular job, right You can't reach in and put a string of lights on a computer, but you can reach in and put a string of lights on somebody's heart. It's an amazing feeling to be able to do that.

A few years ago there was a patient. She was, I think, at the time 27 years old and she was pregnant, and she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

She was seen in an outside hospital and they had said to her, “We have to start treating you. We have to terminate this pregnancy” And it was her first pregnancy and you know you're young, you have cancer and you're pregnant. So you go from this excitation to “Oh my God, I might die!” They had set her up for therapeutic abortion. And she went ahead and scheduled that. And in the meantime, she went to have a second opinion at Penn.

The doctor, set her down and said, “I have an idea. Why don't we hold off on your therapy, if you're willing to do this, and wait till it's safe to give you chemotherapy and possibly save both of you.? You know, the baby and yourself.” She said, “I like that option, a lot better”. When she came to us, we had to give her these chemo therapeutic agents that were really irritating and cause damage to your veins, so most of the time you need like a central access. She made it very clear to me that what wasn't going to work for her was that she had to go through one more procedure because she just couldn't handle it.

So my goal was to be able to do something I wasn't sure I could do. And I said, “Here's the deal. I don’t know that I can get you through without a port, but we can certainly try.” But it was six months of therapy. So every two weeks I would soak her hand. She would have this one vein and this one vein only, and I would say, “Okay, this is it.” I would kind of mentally get myself in a state.

The fact that she knew that somebody was willing to do that, was one less thing that she had to worry about. But every two weeks, that day would be like uncontrollable for me because "Oh my god, her veins were horrible."

I can't even tell you what that last treatment was like. It was a tremendous relief for me, but nothing could compare to the joy when she brought her daughter in for us to see for the first time. A perfectly healthy baby girl. I could cry now thinking of it.

There's some patients that you just can't help. Sometimes they just don't make it. There was a patient she was an artist and on her bucket list was to see the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Two nurses and I bought her a ticket to Pittsburgh and she wasn't well enough to go herself. So we went with her. And we had a blockbuster weekend. I never knew a person who could just say Dr. Loren, just just tell me how much longer do I have? Dr. Loren, said; “You know, Norma, I think you have about six months.” Six months later, she emailed the doctor said, “You know, I am I'm running out of shampoo. Should I just get a little bottle?” And the truth is, she lived for two years after that. My patients have taught me how to live. Even when they were dying. They taught me how to live.

The, the greatest lessons I learned was the importance of human kindness. It's sometimes the simplest gesture, a hot cup of tea, warm blanket holding someone's hand. All those are expression of caring, they don't take a lot of effort, but they have a profound effect.

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The Penn Medicine Listening Lab is a storytelling initiative that embraces the power of listening as a form of care. While the stories featured here aspire to uplift and empower, they may also describe experiences of trauma and suffering. We recognize that listening can be a vulnerable experience and offer resources at Penn Medicine and beyond through our website for those in need of support.

Tags: Compassionate Relationships