‘Respect and Honor’: Firefighter’s Final Days at Methodist Hospital Marked by Special MomentsPublished: Jan. 10, 2023
Lee Hulbert, left, and his family nominated the Methodist Hospital Progressive Care Unit for the DAISY Team Award for their care of his brother, Mark.
When Lee Hulbert, MSN, RN, thinks about his brother, Mark, he remembers a man who was always looking out for others.
“He really loved to put a smile on somebody’s face, whether that meant making them laugh or helping them,” Lee said.
Mark’s passion for giving back was perhaps best illustrated by his 11 years with the Irvington Volunteer Fire Department, where he could be found helping with events, maintaining the building and heading out on calls.
“Whatever was going on, he would drop everything to go make that call,” Lee said. “He sacrificed a lot in his life to just give to the fire department and the people who have that need.”
But as Mark, 41, neared the end of his battle with pancreatic cancer at Methodist Hospital in February, he found himself in an unfamiliar position – leaning on others.
Among the family members at his side were Lee, a clinical nurse manager at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, and sister-in-law Melissa Hulbert, MSN, RN, an assistant professor of nursing at Nebraska Methodist College.
But it was the care and support of every Methodist Progressive Care Unit nurse and nursing assistant that stood out during the most difficult of times. Their efforts were so extraordinary that the family nominated them for a DAISY Team Award – which honors nurses for going above and beyond in their work.
“From that day getting admitted, I think everyone kind of knew we were getting closer to that time,” Lee said. “The staff made it feel special. They didn’t know Mark. They didn’t know us. They didn’t know we were nurses. They did it all anyway.”
Supporting Patient and Family
Mark was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2021. Although he began treatment almost immediately, the cancer had metastasized to his liver, and he was in and out of the hospital in late 2021 as his condition worsened.
By the time he was admitted to Methodist Hospital in February, his family and staff knew he likely wouldn’t go home again. Still, staff members did all they could to provide The Meaning of Care.
Whether the acts were large or small, Lee said, he and his family will never forget them. At one point, staff moved Mark to a larger room in the unit so family could be more comfortable while visiting him. Lee also remembered how moved he was when nurses helped him bathe his brother.
“Even though he was out of it, they talked to Mark like he was right there with them,” he said. “They showed him so much respect and honor, and they treated him like a person who wasn’t dying.”
Lee also can’t forget how the staff’s support let him put his nursing background aside and care for Mark as a brother.
“Being a nurse myself, it’s way different seeing the other side of this,” he said. “I’m seeing my brother suffer. He’s dying. I’m like, ‘I should know what to do,’ but the nursing brain in me was gone. They would come in, and I’d say, ‘Just explain it to me like you would anyone else.’ And they’d take their time.
“I’d say, ‘We’re not doing the right thing,’ and they would reassure us. They were just so good to us.”
Registered nurse Ashley Hunter, BSN, RN, said that supporting family members, especially during end-of-life situations, is important to the progressive care team.
“In that moment, the family in a way becomes your patient, too,” she said. “You’re caring for them as a whole.”
A “Breathtaking” Scene
The extra attention, reassurances and respect shown to Mark and his family were unforgettable, Lee said. But the Progressive Care Unit staff didn’t stop there.
Knowing Mark’s time was short, his family asked if they could somehow get him outside one last time. Staff members went to work to make it happen, working with the hospital’s house supervisor and security team to find a safe route to wheel Mark’s bed outside. They also carried extra oxygen and medication in case Mark had urgent needs during the journey from north tower’s sixth floor.
“Everyone just jumped in,” said Lori Kean, BSN, RN-BC, core coordinator and charge nurse for the unit. “That’s kind of what 6 North is. We’re just kind of a big family.”
Meanwhile, Lee and his family put out the call for Mark’s friends and firefighting colleagues to visit him one last time. When Mark was wheeled outside on an unusually warm February day, he was greeted by more than 50 people and several fire trucks.
The scene was breathtaking, Kean said.
“Getting him outside was huge,” Lee said. “He was shocked. Mark was a guy you would never see cry, but he started crying.”
Mark didn’t have the energy to say much, but no words were necessary. The moment was powerful enough – full of handshakes, hugs and stories about his impact.
“It was super cool to hear about all the difference he had made in their lives,” said progressive care registered nurse Jane Rodgers, BSN, RN.
“From that point on, when we got back to his room, Mark fell asleep and never woke up again,” Lee said. “We felt better knowing he was at peace and got to go outside. Maybe he could finally let go? I don’t know.”
When Mark passed away the next day, Lee and his family had one more request: Could firefighters escort his body from his room to an ambulance?
“It’s the fact that the staff didn’t just say no,” Lee said. “Instead they said, ‘We haven’t done this before, but let’s see how we can get it done.’”
And hours later, the final request became a reality.
“As the firemen showed up to transfer him to their gurney, cover him with the American flag and place his helmet on his chest, the health care staff lined the hallways just outside the room to pay their respects,” Lee wrote in the DAISY Award nomination. “Staff had stopped all their tasks for a moment and stood silent as our brother was transported from his room by his own firefighters. This was truly a sight to see! This show of respect was so touching and truly took our breath away.”
Mark’s body was then escorted by firefighters to Forest Lawn Funeral Home, with first responders lining parts of the route.
It was an extraordinary scene, Lee said, capping off a series of unforgettable moments. He detailed many of them in his DAISY nomination, and he was there in December when the Progressive Care Unit was honored with the award.
In particular, he still marvels at the effort and coordination necessary for Mark’s “final farewell” outside.
“I know it seems simple, but in our eyes, that made a fantastic day out of something that was so horrible for us,” he said. “It was something I’ll never forget.”