Lollypop Dreams

“Lollypop Dreams©”

         Help!” she mouthed, without speaking a word. It was like a silent scream. She had a look of terror as I watched her put her head in her hands. Little “Jeffrey” was asking questions, and lots of them. “Doug, please don’t let him die”. Jeffrey was only 5 years old. “What did he know of death”, I wondered. The family doctor mentioned nothing about this little guy at my feet, but only that the patient was slowly developing symptoms of spontaneous bleeding….petechiae (red/purple spots under the skin). Working on-call as a hospice nurse can be rather challenging. Not knowing where you might be from one moment to the next is not easy. So when I entered this apartment, I did what any hospice nurse would do, leave my personal stuff at the door, open my heart and my mind, and think about one thing… “Comfort”. “What do I need to do to ensure that this patient and his family are comfortable?” Sitting beside Jeffrey,  his mom and my patient, I took a moment to breathe. After all, I before this moment, I had never been in a situation like this. My patient was not Jeffrey’s elderly grandfather, nor a dying uncle. My patient was more to Jeffrey than that….it was his identical twin brother. 

 

 

         I was called out to the house because Jeffrey was crying and inconsolable. Over the last two days he watched as his lifetime playmate and sole mate withered away into a partial coma. “He can barely talk now,” Jeffrey told me in an authoritative voice. It seemed as if Jeffrey was protecting his brother. He stood between his brother and I as he began to ask a series of questions. His mother, now at an absolute loss for words could do nothing but look my direction, shuttering, waiting and hoping that I could bring some words of comfort to her son, the brother of her dying child.  "What will happen to my brother and what can I do to help him?” was the first question. “Well” I said, “You brother will be having some changes in his body soon.” Not having worked with many pediatric hospice patients, I wasn’t up on the latest in pediatric care of the dying. What I did know was that signs are signs and symptoms are symptoms and that I knew after speaking with his physician that his liver was failing, which the physician said would lead to thrombocytopenia and red/purple spots under the skin. “There are a lot of things you can do to help him”. I really did it now. What if I am setting this little boy up and have nothing to offer him to help his dying brother?

 

        “Like what” the little boy said, “I can’t do what mom’s do”. “Well, Jeffrey” I swallowed hard, “Your brother needs a lot of love right now during this time.” His mother knelt down to Jeffrey’s side and said “Yes, Jeff, your brother needs all of us to help him during this time.”  Again, Jeffrey’s mother looked at me and with a tear in her eye mouthed, “Please help me”. I knew at that moment, I needed to think fast. I felt as if the rest of Jeffrey’s future emotional well-being might very well rest in the next 10 minutes. While looking at Jeffrey, his mother and the patient for whom I came to comfort, it came to me...almost out of nowhere. I noticed, under the light of the kitchen lamp, my patient began to have these red spots under his skin, just like his physician had stated. “Jeffrey, come here a minute”. Jeffrey came and sat on my lap. I knew that it was now or never. “Ever hear of lollypop dreams” I asked him? “Nope” he smiled.  Apprehensively, I peered at his mother, noting nothing but a nervous smile on her face.

 

         As Jeffrey sat on my lap, I began to tell Jeffrey the story about Lollypop Dreams. “You see Jeffrey, I believe in angels and also believe that they can do work through us”. “Really Doug, you believe in angels?” “Of course I do Jeffrey”. Jeffrey’s mom came and sat next to us, listening ever so closely, as if she knew what I was up to. “Lollypop dreams are dreams that kids can have when they are very sick, like your brother. They are lovely dreams. When sick children have these dreams, they can be made extra special with the help of loved ones in the home”. “Like me?” Jeffrey asked. “Exactly like you”, I answered. “What do I need to do Doug and how do I know that it will be extra special like you said?” “Well Jeffrey, it is said that if you put a red or purple lollypop underneath your brother’s pillow, he will have a lollypop dream filled with love, laughter and lots of red lollypops”. “More than that, these lollypop dreams will fill your brother with so much love, you will be able to see this love all over his body”.

 

         “I want to try Doug, mom can I try?” Jeffrey’s mom looked at me wondering what I was up to. “Trust me”, I mouthed. “Jeffrey”, I said. “You must do more than just place the lollypops under his pillow; you must tell him how much you love him and let him know that you will never forget him”. “Ok”, said Jeffrey nervously. “I will”. Having been at dinner two hours earlier, I pulled out a red lollypop from my pocket. “Let’s try this one,” I told him. “Wow, you really are an angel”, Jeffrey said. With some new hope and something for Jeffrey to do for himself and his dying brother, I gave his mother a hug and headed for the door. “Thank you”, she said. “You really are an angel”. I smiled and offered my hand as a sign of appreciation for her strength and love for her children.  “Your son is the angel,” I said. I told her that I would be back tomorrow to check on her, and Jeffrey, knowing well that her dying little boy would not be alive very much longer. As I turned to walk out the door, Jeffrey’s mother stopped me. “Doug, how do we know if he has the lollypop dream”? “You will know”, I answered, and closed the door behind me. Driving home, I wished for all to go well. I knew that if this little boy’s illness progressed as the physician stated it would, Jeffrey would see that his brother did indeed have lollypop dreams. All the way home, I thought about Jeffrey. The courage, strength and willingness he showed amazed me.

 

        The next morning, I received a page to call Jeffrey’s mom’s house. I dialed as quickly as I could and waited impatiently as the phone rang until Jeffrey’s mother answered. Speaking in almost a whisper she said, “He is dying, can you come? Jeffrey wants to see you” I will be right there”, I answered. “Doug?” she asked. “Yes” I answered.  “He had a lollypop dream,” she said almost chuckling within her tears. “I know,” I answered. When I arrived, Jeffrey ran out to greet me. As he jumped in my arms, Jeffrey yelled “He had lollypop dreams, he really did….you can see them”. Jeffrey’s mother came out and said, “You were right. Jeffrey placed them under his brother’s pillow, told him that he loved him and that he would never forget him. When Jeffrey woke up this morning, the red lollypops were in a thousand pinpoint pieces, all under his brother’s skin. For the next three nights, Jeffrey would place the red lollypop under his brother’s bed and say the things necessary to ensure the lollypop dreams would come. And they did. Each morning when Jeffrey woke up, more and more pinpoint pieces of lollypop could be seen forming under his brother’s skin.

 

         Lollypop Dreams was not a fantasy. It happened the very second I was faced with having to make an immediate decision about how I was going to explain to a five year old why his brother has red spots showing up all over his body caused by the cancer that riddled his little body. If nothing else, the idea of Jeffrey’s brother having these lollypop dreams brought Jeffrey peace in his heart. It allowed him to participate in the love and care of his dying identical twin bother and permitted him to share in the process of ensuring his brother’s comfort. I never forget Jeffrey, his mother, nor his brother. Jeffrey taught me things that could never be explained in school, nor in a book, but only in our hearts. In the realm of hospice care, loving dying people is all we wish to do. We are not angels, but teachers. We guard nothing but the honor of being at the bedside of the dying. There are times when we will be faced with situations and opportunities that will challenge us to think, create and imagine.

 

 

 

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