2: Above and Beyond

2: Above and Beyond

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Above and Beyond

Hope is life and life is hope.

~Adele Shreve

Kevin was tethered to machines that clicked and blinked and beeped. His normal exuberance diminished as he was kept immobile. We, his family, knew his humor was still intact, but weakness was sapping it away.

So many nurses, therapists and doctors had come in over the many weeks Kevin had spent in this teaching hospital. Every shift change, morning and evening, brought different caregivers. My brother’s case was interesting, a challenge, and the parade of interns became a blur of murmuring, perplexed voices that rarely addressed him directly. Although the whiteboard on the wall noted that he preferred to be called Kevin, his middle name, those who spoke to him called him by his unused first name, Bruce, then shook their heads at his lack of response.

Then came the afternoon when Andrea blew into his room.

“Hello, Kevin,” she sang out. “What can I do for you today?” As she adjusted his tubings and took note of this and that, she leaned over him and listened to his soft reply.

“I’d just feel so much better if I could have a shower,” he said.

“I don’t see why you can’t. A good shampoo would perk you up, I expect.”

I looked at my sister and we grinned. Kevin had been asking for a shower for weeks. Everyone said he was too weak, that it would be unmanageable. They had occasionally squirted some gel on his head, covered it with a plastic cap and massaged it in. One aide had rubbed his head so hard he hadn’t asked since.

“Before your shower, would you like to take a ride?”

Andrea stepped out and returned minutes later with an empty wheelchair and another patient riding in one beside her. We watched in awe as she expertly assisted our brother from his bed to the chair. Her fingers snapped tubes apart and repositioned them around an IV pole attached to the chair. She hung a couple of monitors over the back and threw a blanket around Kevin’s lap and shoulders.

Andrea motioned for my sister Linda to push Kevin. She grabbed the other patient’s handlebars, and the five of us strolled the long hall of the ICU, heads down, furtively passing the glass walls of patient rooms and trotting past the nurse’s station.

We heard somebody call, “Where are you going with him?” but Andrea just waved and said, “Out for air. We’ll be back in twenty minutes!” She never slowed her stride. Linda and I stole a sideways glance at each other and smiled. I felt like we were making a jailbreak and we half expected a siren to sound and a flurry of security guards to chase us. Andrea pushed the elevator button and we were soon in the lobby.

Kevin said not a word. But he lifted his head as we exited the building, his eyes open wide.

Our little troupe halted in the hospital courtyard where my sister and I had often taken our lunches, short breaks from the confines of the room where all the whirring machines took over. Andrea wheeled her charges, along with my sister and me, into a loose circle that reminded me of the wagon trains of the Old West, united against harm. My heart pounded and I wondered how my brother’s heart was taking it all. His monitor blinked steadily.

As the nurse, the other patient, and my sister conversed, I watched Kevin. His head tilted back and his gaze turned toward the sky. A look of amazement shone over his whole face. He watched fluffy white clouds drift lazily, with all the time in the world. I knew then he’d thought he would never see the sky again, never be outside that stifling room.

Linda told stories about Kevin’s life — how despite his frail health he worked three jobs while they raised their two sons. How his wit and humor were legendary. How he was involved in his community, in his church. How he loved and was loved.

Andrea spoke about how she liked to think of her patients’ lives before their illnesses brought them to her. Her duties, she said, included helping them feel better in spirit and body, recognizing them as individuals who needed needles and hospital trappings, but who also needed to be themselves in spite of having to compromise activity and self-sufficiency.

After twenty minutes, she announced the time and patted the hands of both men. Kevin asked softly, “A little longer, please?”

Ten minutes later we paraded back up the elevator.

Heads at the nurse’s station snapped our way, as all five of us held our heads high with new vigor. Andrea parked Kevin inside his door as she delivered the other man to his room. We heard the charge nurse call out to her, and it was a few minutes before she returned with two aides who put Kevin in bed. Andrea re-attached all the wires and reset all the machines.

When Andrea finally stood and smoothed her uniform, he reached for her hand. “That was quite a trip,” he smiled.

“I’ll be back after you’ve rested a bit, and we’ll get that shower.”

We three siblings sat in stunned reverence. Then Linda and I described how the sparrows and finches, used to being fed crumbs by visitors and staff, often joined us when we had our courtyard lunches. Kevin could picture it all now that he had been there.

When Andrea returned, I asked her how she would manage to get our brother into the shower and wash his hair. “I’ll just get wet too!” was her happy reply. Linda and I went to dinner and when we came back Kevin was clean, refreshed and smiling.

The next day I bought chocolates for Andrea before heading in to visit. She wasn’t there. I asked the desk clerk how I could get them to her and was told no one knew where she’d been assigned that day. She didn’t return to the ICU again while we were there.

We asked other caregivers to take Kevin out. “Oh no,” they said, “not with all the care he requires; it would be too much for him.” We asked for him to be showered. The responses were the same. Most days, for the next week or so, he was allowed to sit in a chair in his room for a few minutes at a time. Three staff members picked him up and moved gingerly with much trepidation and effort. I tried to position his chair to face the window, but it was explained to me that his tubes and wires wouldn’t reach that far.

Andrea had fulfilled our hope. She put the sparkle back into my brother’s eyes. She assessed the needs of the man as well as the patient and met them. We had her for only one day, but on that day she exceeded her professional mission and became our own personal angel of mercy.

~Marcia Gaye

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