There are many awards in the nursing community. Some come with plaques; others come with cash. And the most prestigious of these awards is debatable, but if you ask a nurse, the award that comes from their patients or family members is always closest to their hearts.

Martha Peak-Sweet, a registered nurse at VA’s Ralph H. Johnson Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina, recently received such an award after a family member submitted a heartfelt letter.  The letter originally appeared on the Nurse Together website.

Martha cared for my mom during the last 12 hours of her life.  I am a hospice nurse, and have dedicated my life to end of life care.  I know what it takes and how hard it can be to provide comfort in the final vigil. Martha started her shift with us by closing the door to my mother’s room and crying with us.

My mom had been on the unit for two weeks prior to her death and although Martha had not cared for her directly, she interacted with her many times to start IVs etc. in the days before change in condition.   She was alert and oriented just 18 hours before.  Martha began her shift by crying with us because, she explained, she was shocked to find out she was unresponsive and actively dying.  My mom had made an impression on her, with her wit and sense of humor and Martha acknowledged that her change in condition had an impact on her.

Some might say that nurses are not supposed to cry, but it showed us a great deal of compassion and humanity and was comforting to my aunt and me. She asked us what she liked to be called and we told her, as we began the worst 12 hours of our lives.  Martha was phenomenal.  She did just enough, not too much and not too little, to ensure my mom’s continuous comfort.

Martha Peak-Sweet, RN, is presented with her DAISY Award pin by John Goldizen, Associate Deputy of Nursing and Patient Care Services.

Martha Peak-Sweet, RN, is presented with her DAISY Award pin by John Goldizen, associate deputy of Nursing and Patient Care Services.

She let me decide when to turn her, allowed me to participate in her personal care and offered morphine and Ativan all day, to manage her symptoms. She checked in on our family all day long.  She responded quickly when we thought my mom was the slightest bit uncomfortable. She talked to my unresponsive mother with every interaction, telling her what she was doing and why.  “I am here with some medication to help you breathe easier.”  “We are going to bathe you and change your dressings.”

When the end finally came, at the close of her shift, Martha was right there with us, giving comforting medication and talking mom through it.  I can still hear her telling mom, “There is a beautiful sunset happening just outside your window.  You will be seeing all of them from the other side, now.”  I can tell you in my seven years as a hospice nurse, I have never encountered a more compassionate nurse.  The situation unfolding before us was gruesome, but Martha kept her cool and gave us a beautiful metaphor to eventually replace the memory of this day.

She gave us the gift of tender, personal and skillful nursing care.  We will never forget her.

For her compassionate care, Peak-Sweet was presented a DAISY Award. The DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses recognizes outstanding members of the nursing community and the very special work they do every day and was established by the DAISY Foundation in memory of the extraordinary nursing efforts. The program offers patients, families, and professional colleagues a way to honor nurses for all they do.

Peak-Sweet is now one of many nurses throughout VA who have received the DAISY Award for dedication to and demonstrating VA’s core “I CARE” values: integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence.

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