1: Twelve-Hour Talks

1: Twelve-Hour Talks

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Twelve-Hour Talks

When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.

~Malala Yousafzai

John and I spent several weeks of twelve-hour night shifts together. He lay motionless and unresponsive, connected to IV fluids, a feeding tube, and a Foley catheter. As a registered nurse in a neuro-trauma intensive care unit, I cared for this twenty-something patient, comatose after a car crash. Although his other injuries were minor, his brain was jostled. Day shift reported that his mother visited each morning, but he had no company except for me from 7:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m.

As much for myself as for John, I kept up a running conversation each time I entered his room. “Good evening John, this is Saturday.” “It’s cold and cloudy outside. Do you like rain?” It didn’t matter to me that John did not answer. I continued our conversations as though he had. When the television was on I discussed the program and the news of the day. When I bathed him and changed his linens I discussed the pros and cons of baths versus showers. If the traffic was bad on my way to work, I told him about it, along with running discussions about everything from sports to cafeteria food. When it was time for my day off, I told him what I would be doing and when I would return. John never responded but I talked anyway.

One evening, when I returned from several days off, John was not in his room. Fearing the worst, I swallowed the lump in my throat and focused on my new patients. I’d long ago learned that nursing is a job where crises are shared but outcomes aren’t always known. Sometimes it’s better that way.

Weeks went by. One night I noticed a woman walking in the hall beside a tall young man using a cane. They paused at each room as if listening for something. “They must be someone’s family in for a visit,” I told myself, as I watched their slow progress. I gathered the supplies I needed from the nurse’s station and started to my patient’s room when another nurse stepped into the hall and asked me a question. As I answered her, the young man’s head turned. He quickened his pace and approached me. “I know your voice.”

“Can I help you?”

“You already did,” he laughed.

“John! I didn’t recognize you standing upright and dressed in jeans and a T-shirt!”

His mother explained that he had regained consciousness and had been moved to a rehab floor, where he made rapid progress.

“He did not remember his accident, but did remember a voice during his time in the ‘twilight,’ as he called it. At first I dismissed it as a dream or his imagination, but John insisted it was real,” his mother explained.

John explained: “So I had Mom bring me to this unit, first on day shift and then again on evening shift, so I could listen for the voice. Your voice: the voice that calmed my fears and brought me comfort.”

John’s smile and hug reminded me why, for twenty years, I have been a nurse.

~Sharon T. Hinton

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