17: A Better Nurse

17: A Better Nurse

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

A Better Nurse

The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.

~Albert Schweitzer

The door closed again, blocking my view of life on the other side. Hot salty tears slid from my eyes. This was the morning of day number three in isolation. IV fluids flowed into my right arm and I was too ill to move. I assumed it was because I was expected to die.

Three days before I’d given birth to my third child, my second son. I saw him for a few minutes and then he was gone, taken away to the nursery while I was wheeled to a different floor. I had not seen my baby since. I had Hepatitis A, probably from drinking contaminated water, the doctor said. He also said I was dying when I was wheeled into the emergency room, but they were going to try to save my baby. That was all I could hope for. Before they could set up the OR for the emergency C-section, I went into spontaneous delivery.

My baby boy was healthy, but I was in grave condition. My liver had sustained so much damage that, even though I’d survived, the outlook was still grim. I tried to shut those thoughts out. I longed to go home with our new baby and mother my children. Breathing was difficult; my head swam.

My condition scared many people. Just to enter my room nurses had to scrub their hands, and then put on a gown, paper shoes, gloves and a mask, and carefully take them off again before they could leave. I felt like a burden to everyone. Few people came into my room, so I had spent the past two days in solitude with the exception of nurses coming to check my vitals and change my IV bags.

“God, please let me just go ahead and die. Anything is better than this.” This was not the first time I had prayed that silent prayer. Fighting, it seemed, was futile.

The door opened and a large woman dressed in white walked in. “Good morning, honey. How are you today?” Her strong Southern accent was soothing. As she leaned over me to straighten my pillow, she saw the tears. “Why, sugar, what is the matter with you?”

Unable to speak, I just looked at her. I watched her as she assessed my condition. She checked my face, hands, arms, and then lifted the sheet to check my feet and legs.

“When was the last time you had a bath? And, where is your breakfast tray?”

Embarrassed and confused, I shook my head. “I haven’t been able to get out of bed to shower.”

“Oh, honey. You don’t get out of bed. You get a bed bath. You’re too sick to get up, child.” She moved around the room as she spoke, bending over and removing a plastic basin from the bedside table, gathering towels and washcloths she’d brought in.

“Did you get breakfast this morning?”

“No. I haven’t had food in two days.”

“Well, you just wait a minute.” She opened the door to the bathroom and returned carrying a basin filled with warm water, soap and shampoo. She pushed the call light hooked to the side of my bed. A nurse’s aide came to the door and said, “Yes?”

“You call down to the kitchen and tell them the woman in this room has not received her breakfast and we need it right now.” The aide disappeared.

The nurse bent over me, and using the warm washcloth, gently wiped the tears from my face. “Don’t you worry, honey. I’m going to give you a bed bath and wash your hair. Then we’ll put lotion on you and get you sitting up, and then you will get your breakfast.”

“But I thought I wasn’t supposed to get anything because I may be dying.”

Her eyes widened as she pursed her lips together tightly.

She washed my hair, rinsing it several times with wonderfully warm water. I could not stop my tears as this wonderfully kind woman took such gentle care of me. As she bathed me, I felt myself come alive as a fresh breath entered my soul. Her gentleness and kindness brought me back to life as she ministered to me. She applied lotion to my arms, hands, legs and body. Still, I could not stop crying.

When she finished with her ministrations, I expected her to leave. She surprised me by removing her isolation attire and going out into the hallway to retrieve my lunch tray from which aromas wafted, making my stomach growl.

Gallantly, my angel reentered my room, again completely covered in protective attire. She rolled the head of the bed up, propped me up with pillows, smoothed out my covers, and then fed me. Food had never tasted so good. I still could not stop my tears. Gratitude filled me… filled my heart until I could hardly stand it. She talked to me softly while she spooned the food into my mouth. I will never remember what she talked about and I do not recall what she fed me. But I will never forget how her kindness nurtured me.

Years later, after I graduated from nursing school and went to work, I remembered how it felt to be ignored and how wonderful it was to be cared for with loving kindness. If I take a little longer with my patients, or do a little extra for them, it’s because of the gentle woman who showed me such love. I don’t know her name, but I will always think of her as the angel who taught me how to be a better nurse.

~Jo Davis

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