Holding the Hand of a Veteran

I have spent my life in the service of others and I have never once regretted that fact. In 1985, I graduated high school and did not know what I was going to do to establish myself, or what I would become. In the summer of 1985, a friend brought a Navy recruiter to my house, and when my Dad saw him and invited him in for dinner, I knew that I had just joined the U.S. Navy. I served proudly from 1986 to 1990 on board the USS Meyerkord FF 1058, my MOS was Interior Communications Electrician. I chose this job so that once I finished my contract I could get a good job and have a career as a telephone repairman or some other type of communication job which would provide me a career and life. Instead I was lucky enough to land a job as a professional firefighter and I worked in a very busy city. I rose through the ranks with hard work and dedication to become a Deputy Fire Chief. The city that I worked in was extremely political and since I have a genuine love of people. I ended up caught up in local and State politics. This love of people would eventually cost me a career that I had built and was extremely proud of, due to dirty politics and character assassination. At this point in my life I had a wife, 3 kids and two houses, two car payments and credit card bills. I had just gone from making around $110K a year to $30,000; literally overnight. I did not know what to do, or how to do it, but I had to rebuild my life on the fly.

I enrolled in a community college and began my journey towards becoming a Registered Nurse. My love of people and desire to serve others would make becoming an RN a perfect second career. My wife was steadfast and loyal, she took care of the kids, the groceries, the dinners, the house, you name it, so that I could focus on my school work and pass nursing school, which was incredibly difficult, especially at my advanced age. I did not have the luxury of youthful energy or understanding of the technology in the same way the young people in my class did. I had to buy a smartphone for school, otherwise I would probably still have a flip phone as all I really do is text and make phone calls with it. Passing Nursing school and becoming an RN is my greatest accomplishment in life. I worked at a private hospital straight out of school and financially had rebuilt my life in two short years. I worked very hard at learning my new craft and gaining invaluable experience in the science of nursing. How to treat and talk to people, especially those experiencing great sadness, pain, and fear was something that came naturally to me, and in my opinion is every bit as important and healing as any medication or procedure in modern medicine. After about a year and a half of plying my trade and becoming a solid RN, I was granted the opportunity to serve at a local Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. I accepted my new position, which is a mid- level administrative job, named the Safe Patient Handling Coordinator. I did not know it at the time, but this position would take me away from bedside nursing. I embraced my new role and as always I put my best foot forward and pursued becoming the best SPH Coordinator I could be. I have been with the VA for a little over three years now, as I write this blog on May 8th 2020, my 53rd birthday.  I am once again serving as a bedside nurse, this time in Bedford, Massachusetts VA

I am currently deployed on a DEMPS mission, which is when the VA deploys nurses and doctors to areas that have experienced a major disaster. I went to serve in Puerto Rico two years ago when hurricane Maria devastated that island. I was part of an initial wave of personnel to set up a make-shift field hospital in Manatii PR, inside of a gymnasium. I was there for two weeks, and observed a lot of sadness and grief. I was able to pick up a little Spanish while there and was able to communicate with the people under my care as well as their family members. I will never forget the time when I emerged from an area where we had a refrigerator with bottled water and I had one in my hand. There was an elderly lady staring at me and looking at the bottle of water in my hand, I asked her if she would like a freeo aqua (cold water). She shook her head yes and held her hands together as though she were praying. I gave her the bottle of water and she began to cry, rubbing my arm saying Thank you, Thank you. She had lost everything in the storm and was incredibly grateful for a simple cold bottle of water. I will never forget that moment, ever.

I am now on my second deployment for DEMPS, this time I am serving at the Bedford Massachusetts VA in Middlesex county, which has been hit extremely hard from the Corona Virus. I am serving on Unit 2B, which was the first Covid unit set up by the Bedford VA. I am ending my third week here and in one more week I will be going home to my wife and kids. In my time here I have worked as hard as I have ever worked in my life. As all of you know we are in the middle of a pandemic, and for a guy like me, this is a time to step up and shine like never before. I love the action, the fight, I love being involved in being part of the solution, right in the middle of the fight. I have witnessed 11 Veterans transition from this life to the next in just three weeks, and that is just on my unit. Three of these Veterans were patients under my care, and men that I had grown to know and admire. I begged to be deployed and come here in order to help, and I would be lying if I said that there was never a time I regretted volunteering for this deployment. I have learned a ton about this virus and how it operates and how it kills. Patients can be asymptomatic, meaning they feel fine, they do not have a temp or any other symptom which are common with this disease. Then suddenly they spike a temp, their electrolytes began to go way out of parameter and they begin to crash, for those Veterans that have a full code status, as soon as that begins we stabilize the Veteran and ship them out to a local hospital complete with Intensive Care Units (ICU) and ventilators. For those with a status of Do Not Resuscitate or Do Not Intubate (DNR/DNI) we simply help them transition as comfortably as possible. We accomplish this with a mixture of Ativan and Morphine, to help ease their difficulty with breathing and fear of what they are experiencing, which is that they are dying and they know it. The VA has a policy that states “No Veteran Dies Alone” and a staff member is assigned to hold the Veterans hand, talk to them and ensure that they are not alone when they take their final breath. I have had that honor twice on this deployment, and I say honor because I truly believe that it is an Honor to be placed in that position, it is also heartbreaking. I had a breakdown after a recent shift which was 15 hours long and I had lost two Veterans, one of which took his last breath at 2134 that night. I helped complete the after life care and place the Veteran in a body bag and transported to the morgue. Earlier in the day, I had asked the nurse manager about a Veteran that we had sent out to a hospital two days earlier because we noticed that his electrolytes were way out of parameter, and she informed me that he had just died that morning. Later that evening I held the hand of the other Veteran that drew his last breath at 2134. 

I Love people and I Love being an RN. I Love being part of New England Adventures, where we put ourselves into helping other Veterans and building a community of like minded individuals, so that none of us ever feels alone. I have a Blessed life. Thank you for reading this and please get involved with us, in order to not only help yourself, but to help others. In my humble opinion, that is what this life is all about.


Tim Moran

2 replies on “Holding the Hand of a Veteran”

Thank you for sharing this Tim
Having had the pleasure of making your acquaintance I know how much you care. Make sure you take care of yourself

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