The toll of mental illness, homelessness and severe alcoholism was written in his looks. His weathered face was dirty and unshaven. His curly locks, once the signature of his health, were matted and crusty, filled with the grime of the city’s streets.
His family had been through a lot with him – a jumble of emotion, highs and lows and the ultimate understanding that sometimes all of the love in the world cannot break the spell of alcoholism or cure mental illness.
A sister, who stood at his bedside, told Darcy that the man in the bed didn’t even look like her brother. The years, she said, had been so unkind.
Darcy, who works nights, encouraged the sister to go home and get some rest. In the morning, another sister was to arrive from out-of-state. Together, they would make a decision to put legal paperwork in place requesting that their brother not be resuscitated.
After the sister left, Darcy went to the “fluff and puff’’ locker in the Intensive Care Unit and gathered a few supplies.
When she returned to his bedside, she gently shaved his scruffy face, which was severely yellowed, a sign that his liver was about to quit. Darcy cupped water in her hands, dabbed shampoo on the man’s hair, and rinsed it.
To her surprise, the curl returned to the man’s hair. Darcy’s shift ended in the morning, and she went home for the day.
The next day, the two sisters returned to Memorial. They completed their legal paperwork and then spent a few moments at their brother’s bedside.
“He looks like our brother,’’ one of the sisters said to a day-shift nurse.
The homeless man died a short time later.
When Darcy arrived for work the next day, her co-workers told her that the man died. They also told her that the family was grateful for the care that she had provided to her brother – and they explained that what she had done meant everything to them.
As a result of this act of compassion, Darcy Johnson received the Daisy Award, given quarterly to nurses who show excellence in their profession.
After receiving the award, Darcy said that she is one of many in her department who make extra effort to build relationships with families.
“He was dying, and there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff that we could do for him,’’ she said. “For me, I just thought, well, there is something that Ii could do. I knew his family was coming in. Sometimes, you can’t save everyone, but you can make the end of their life honorable to them and to their families.
“It’s a gift that I could give.’’