Naoko Ishikawa, RN
Naoko Ishikawa, RN shares how her grandmothers death inspired her to help others.
When did you know you wanted to be a nurse?
When? I wasn’t sure if I liked to become a nurse, but from my experience, when I was younger, I thought that maybe I had to find something that would make me stronger. And then I thought about it, and thought that nursing could be one of those choices. And so I went and did my school, and became a nurse in Japan. And then when I started working as a nurse, I then realized how lucky I am. And that was a great decision to make because being a nurse is awesome.
So you were around high school when you learned that you wanted to be a nurse?
That was around the time that I had to make a decision about the future. After high school.
And did something happen around that time? Did you interact with a nurse?
I think my grandmother was sick when I was around 14 or 15. And she passed away on the day next to my birthday. I didn’t know anything about her disease. I was very young. I really loved her. At the same time, we lived together but I didn’t take care of her all. I didn’t know what kind of help she needed or what she wanted. When she was hospitalized, I didn’t go and see her often. Maybe because I was too young, I didn’t have the way to go, or that I didn’t even think that I had to see my grandmother. And when I realized, it was too late. I felt so stupid.
And then my parents, especially my mother would tell my grandmother, who was dying, “Tomorrow it’s Naoko’s birthday, or something like that. And that you should say, “Happy Birthday.” I was so…not angry…but it was so awkward. My grandmother was dying, and why did she have to wish me a “Happy Birthday.”
And then, it happened that my grandmother saying “Happy Birthday” was the last thing she said to me and to my family. And when…after she passed away, there was so many things I had to do. That experience, not knowing…I couldn’t forgive myself for a while. So, knowing that while she was dying, and how she died, the choices to live by yourself, you need to take care of things. But this is more my mother. I thought that I needed to be stronger. I didn’t have what most of the people had (about being a nurse), you know the Florence Nightingale or something like that. I didn’t have an idea of something like that. I just wanted to have a decent career. That’s all.
It also sounds that the relationship you had with your family, may have had an influence on having this line of work as opposed to choosing fashion.
No that’s not me. That art stuff.
But you have a passion for helping people.
Yes, but I didn’t know at the time.
What moments do you look forward to or enjoy here at Zen Hospice Project?
A good death. But that’s so general…hmmm. To be available for them. And yeah, I learn from them…from families and patients on so many things…being available to them…feel the connection, the experience with them, that’s really important for me. It’s not physical symptoms but it’s the emotional part that I really enjoy. The connection.
How does that emotional connection with the resident translate to how you do your job?
To receive real appreciation from the heart and connect with smiles. Even though they don’t mention anything, I can receive them. Not in words, but maybe in…aura.
It sounds like this emotional connection with them feeds how you approach them. And that’s wonderful.
What do you treasure in your past interactions with residents?
Oh, so many memories. (Smiles) I remember one of the residents who was dying. She was a unique patient. We had a difficult time dealing with her, but when she was dying, she looked at me and said, “I love you.” She wasn’t the kind of person to do that, but she gave me the words and it meant so much…I don’t know…the time stopped at the time. How do you say it? There was a pause. I wasn’t shocked, but I was left empty and I started crying a lot. I still remember that moment. She was having a hard time to breathe, and then she looked at me and said, “I love you.”
Recently, it happened a week ago…two weeks ago, one of the residents, she was still able to talk, she said to me, “You know, she said, you know how some nurses do it, they work this way. (Naoko motions one hand from one point to another, in a linear way.) But you do, this way, and at the same time you work from here. (Naoko motions both her hands from her arms and around, somewhat like an embrace.) You have this part (Naoko motions to her chest, and then motions both hands somewhat like an embrace). And that’s a special skill. People don’t have that skill. But you have. And I found it.”
What do you think she meant by that?
So you’re thinking, not direct. You’re always thinking around the problem. At the time, I didn’t know what she was talking about. I think that I still don’t know what she meant. But I think that she believes that she found something in me. Some special idea that she had. And I was so glad that she actually expressed that to me. You know.
And also, one more thing is this hospice nurse agency, nurse. I don’t even remember when, I had to call an on-call nurse. And that was my first time to meet that nurse, and she asked me my name. So I told her, “Naoko.” And she was like, “Ah.” And she didn’t say anything else and she finished her work. We talked about the patient and about her work. And then right before she left, she told me that she had a daughter and her daughter was sick, and the nurse had to take her to the emergency room.
They were doing paperwork there and the person who was getting information about her daughter started talking to the nurse, because they found out that the nurse was a hospice nurse. Then, the person getting the information told the nurse that her friend was actually here a few months ago and she told a nurse, that there is a nurse at Zen hospice, and her name is Naoko. She took care of my friend so well, and I could never forget her name. She was very appreciative, and actually we never get feedback that often. But there are some people there who remember you, and talk about you.
That’s a beautiful story. Wow.
When you look at your nursing history, it’s amazing how you’ve landed at hospice here at Zen Hospice Project. How did you get in to hospice nursing?
I didn’t choose to become a hospice nurse. But I found this place, and I fell in love. I had never had a hospice experience before I worked here. I like the way we do things here. It’s beautiful. I can spend more time with residents and family compared to working in a hospital. And also in the hospital, you’re sending off people. You don’t know sometimes that patients die or they get better. But here, there is no goal except for them to be peaceful and provide a peaceful death. So rewarding. And I think, that’s beautiful to have the opportunity to provide a good death, and at the same time, learn from the experience and think about your life too.
So, what have you learned most? What have you gleaned from working here about your life and life in general?
I’m much more appreciative of time and spending time with people. And if you have to rush to do something, you can sometimes stop and work around. And to be more appreciative of people I love.