7: I Understand

7: I Understand

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

I Understand

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.

~Dalai Lama

“Are you crazy? You finally retired! Why would you want to work in a hospital again?” My friends couldn’t understand why, after forty years of nursing and four of retirement, I would return to nursing. Actually, I didn’t understand either. Tired of the daily commute and pressures of the job, I had eagerly and joyfully retired with no plans to practice nursing again.

Then one day a friend who was also a retired nurse told me how much she loved being a part of the Volunteer Registered Nurse program. “You help nurses care for patients at the bedside,” she said, “and the best part is, you do so at your own speed.”

She directed me to the program at our local hospital, and after completing lots of paperwork and a few classes, I was excited about getting back to the bedside. On my first day, after a short orientation, I stepped onto the surgical floor to be welcomed with smiles and hellos from the staff. I checked with the charge nurse to see who needed my help the most or if there was a particular patient requiring some extra care. The charge nurse directed me to a patient care tech who was obviously overwhelmed.

She smiled. “I am so glad to see you. I can’t believe you are here to help me.” Taking a deep breath, she added, “Mr. Jones needs a bath and some extra attention. He is so disappointed he’s not going home today.”

I proceeded to the patient’s room to see a sad man staring out the window.

I gave him my biggest smile. “Hi, I’m Mary, a volunteer RN and I’m here to take special care of you this morning.”

I asked if he would like to take a shower and he shook his head glumly.

“Taking a shower and putting on clean pajamas may make you feel better,” I encouraged.

He agreed and walked to the shower while I made his bed with fresh linen and tidied his room. When he finished his shower, I said, “How would you like a foot-soak while you sit in your chair?”

“That would be wonderful,” he said.

As he soaked his feet we had a chance to talk about his diagnosis and his disappointment at not being able to go home. I expressed my sympathy and explained the possible reason he needed to stay a day longer. I helped dry his feet and massaged them with lotion.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“No, I believe you have done a great deal. Thank you. I feel so much better than when you came in here. I can’t thank you enough.”

My heart leaped. I felt I had made a small difference. But I was not done yet.

I found the patient care tech with another patient who had just returned from the OR. As I entered I saw a small frail man. His voice was weak but his eyes were bright. I took his vital signs, as directed, and documented them on a “sticky note.” The PCT was encouraging him to eat something from the lunch tray in front of him. It was obvious he had no strength in his arms or crippled hands to raise a Styrofoam cup or use a spoon.

“You’re busy with other patients,” I told her. “I’ll help him.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. That is what I am here for.”

I fed him a Popsicle in a Styrofoam cup, then offered him broth and Jell-O.

“Yuck!” he said.

So I got him some hot tea with two packs of sweetener and held the cup to his lips as he sipped. It was too hot at first, so between sips we talked about the facility where he lived and his doctor’s promise that he would go back there after this simple procedure.

He finished his tea and said, “There are too many blankets on me; they’re too heavy.”

I removed the bedspread and several blankets.

“Uncover my feet,” he requested.

So I uncovered his feet.

I frowned when I found two crippled, scaly, shriveled feet.

“Would you like some lotion on your feet?”

“That would feel so good.”

I rubbed his feet very gently with soothing cream and covered them with bed socks. Then I covered him with a light warmed blanket and a sheet.

“Can I do anything else for you?”

“How can I reach you? You understand me and a lot of the others don’t.” My heart burst.

Volunteer nursing is the best “job” I’ve ever had. I am still a nurse. Now I understand.

~Mary Clary

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