McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Not Just Another Patient
— In Memory of Riley Berryman —

By Sarah Berryman
Published: October 22, 2013
Riley Berryman and Sarah Berryman
Riley Berryman with his sister Sarah Berryman, a nursing student in the School of Nursing

As a nursing student at McMaster University, I am taught about the nursing process through application with clinical narratives and gradually building our critical assessment and judgement skills in various clinical placements.

It was not until my own life experience of losing a younger brother that I have developed a deeper appreciation for this process and the importance of application of theory to nursing care for the family and patient.

My name is Sarah Berryman, and I am currently in my third year of a bachelor of science in nursing program. I am the middle child in between my two brothers, Riley being my younger brother, and Michael being my older brother.

We are all fortunate to have such loving and dedicated parents, Mike and Shana. I would like to share our family's story in memory of my brother Riley who passed away at the age of 14 years due to complications of his chronic illness. I would like to tell my brother's story, not out of sadness, but rather to inspire nurses and nursing students to continue to advance their skills and knowledge of the nursing process in order to provide the competent and safe care every patient and family deserves.

From the time he was an infant, Riley had been in and out of hospitals, giving our family the chance to meet many nurses. At the age of 6 months, Riley was diagnosed with Chronic Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction. This disease is an uncommon but severe disorder in which intestinal failure occurs, causing signs and symptoms of an obstruction without one actually being present.

Riley Berryman
Riley Berryman at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas

It is a lifelong battle, which Riley fought with unexplainable strength and determination. Riley underwent more than 20 surgeries throughout his lifetime, facing each one with unsurpassable bravery and courage. He spent a great portion of his life in the hospital, usually being admitted 3 to 4 times a year. He fought through every single challenge he was faced with, until heaven called him home on November 29th 2012, nine days after his 14th birthday.

Due to the frequent admissions, the staff at the hospital became like family to us. Riley's admissions became so common for us that we developed very close relationships with the nurses who cared for him most often. There were great nurses, and there were nurses who needed a helping reminder every so often. For example, there were occasions where a nurse wouldn't wait the full 15 seconds after using an alcohol wipe to sanitize Riley's central venous catheter, which we were always sure to point out at the time.

However, the majority of the nurses we encountered were life-changing.

One of Riley's nurses stands out strongly in my father's mind, because she would work to finish all of her tasks as quickly as possible so that she was able to come and play video games with Riley for half an hour. Of course, she never won against him because he was a video game superstar, but they greatly valued each others company in those moments.

Nurses like the one I have just mentioned are the reason I got into this profession. I am and will continue to strive to go the extra mile for my patients. This aspect of nursing is enormously important to me primarily because I have personally witnessed the healing effects this type of caring had. In between hospital admissions Riley was a great student who thoroughly enjoyed his first year at high school.

He was one of the most loyal and dedicated friends a person could ever ask for — my little brother always put my pointless teenage pains ahead of his real life struggles no matter what. Riley was given a heart of gold, and he truly used it to touch other peoples' lives. He had quite a few passions, including cooking, lovingly teasing our parents with his older brother and I, and playing video games — which he would play for hours on end with his friends (and always win). In 2011, he was granted a wish from the Children's Wish Foundation, and used it to take us to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.

We spent a week there and made countless unforgettable memories, which we all cherish to this day. To me, Riley was just a normal young boy, special only because he was and will remain my beautiful baby brother. I hope other nurses and nursing students read this story and learn the importance of care variety and looking at a patient as an individual person when providing care.

Riley's health journey has taught me much more about the impact that nurses have on how patients and families cope emotionally with a chronic illness in the family. Riley's experiences with nursing care have also taught me about the importance of developing and applying critical decision-making skills when providing care.

Most of all, I have learned the true meaning of living life to the fullest with a kind heart from the greatest teacher I've ever known — Riley. Although I have lost a younger brother, I have gained a teacher and a mentor who will be with me throughout the rest of my life and especially during my nursing career. I would love to give a special thank you to Gloria Charles and Carrie Bullard, two of the most inspirational women I have encountered in my nursing career as of yet.

Gloria Charles helped me gain my footing in the beginning process of this story, and Carrie Bullard had some of the most insightful editing advice I've ever received.

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