An elderly couple, both 91, demonstrated the pinnacle of love in their 69-year marriage when they were both hospitalized at the same time. Their beds were placed side by side, and their hands were clasped together until the very end.
High school sweethearts Virginia Stevens and Doyle Thomas Stevens were both admitted to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in Nashville, Tennessee, for unrelated health emergencies. Mr. Stevens was eventually transferred to the palliative care unit, but when kind staff acknowledged that the couple wanted to be together, they moved Ms. Stevens's bed right next to his.
In a heartwarming act, Ms. Stevens placed her frail hand in her dying husband's and never let go.
The couple's daughter, Karen Kreager, said both her parents "lit up" when her mother entered her father's hospital room.
Through it all, she didn't let go and kept holding his hand.
Holding her husband's hand helped her too. She said: "It just gave me peace that I wouldn’t have to worry about him. He was going to be with me."
Mr. Stevens, who had Alzheimer’s disease and was living in an assisted living facility with his wife was recently admitted to VUMC with labored breathing and dangerously low blood pressure. Doctors diagnosed aspiration pneumonia and sepsis. When illness took over his body and no treatment seemed to be effective, he was moved to the medical center’s palliative care unit.
The very same morning, Ms. Stevens had a fall and her concerned son called an ambulance although she said she was fine.
She was admitted for six broken ribs, a spinal fracture, and an injured hip. Ms. Kreager had joked with her mother, "Really, we think that you just needed to check on Dad, and that was your ride."
When VUMC staff noticed the extended family's struggle, bouncing between the palliative care unit and the trauma intensive care unit to check on each elderly relative, they decided to get the couple together. Ms. Kreager was grateful to be able to "focus on both of them at the same time," but most of all that they could share the same room.
For Dr. Mohana Karlekar of VUMC’s adult palliative care program, bringing the Stevenses together reminded her of why she does what she does.
"We take care of people–husbands, wives, mothers, fathers–not patients," she said. "I watched Mrs. Stevens tease her grandson, and her grandson and granddaughter in turn tease her back, feed her yogurt and drinks, and just rejoice in each other’s company. ... It is a reminder to me about how each of us should remember that taking just a little time can be so impactful, and that we should do this more often."
Mr. and Ms. Stevens spent 69 years in a happy marriage and shared the same Christian faith. They moved around while Mr. Stevens was enlisted with the U.S. Army. They raised two children, founded numerous businesses in the transport industry, and retired to Franklin, Tennessee, to be closer to their grandchildren and their great-grandchild.
Side by side in their hospital beds, the couple reminisced about vacations to their Florida beach house, Christmas holidays, and tables adorned with Lebanese treats, an homage to Ms. Stevens's heritage.