60: A Gift of Sun

60: A Gift of Sun

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

A Gift of Sun

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.

~Lao Tzu

I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, so every year the start of spring signals my freedom from the gloomy imprisonment of winter despair. One year, on the very first day of spring, I was relishing the sun on my walk from work to my favorite lunch spot. The sun radiated its warmth on my shoulders and the birds were singing in the trees. I was twenty-seven years old and happy to be free of the dark, icy winter months. But, all of a sudden, I felt scorching pain in my abdomen. It turned out that an unknown tumor on my liver had ruptured.

During the next months, I trudged from walk-in clinic to CT scan to oncologist to interventional radiologist to surgeon, fighting the tumor with all the weapons of modern medicine. I spent hours, days, and weeks in waiting rooms, exam rooms, and hospital rooms with no windows, and therefore, no sun.

After waking from my final surgery, a resection in which forty-five percent of my liver was removed, I was terrified: terrified that maybe some of the tumor still clung to my liver, terrified by the horrendous fog of the general anesthesia, terrified of the pain that far exceeded the rupture itself, terrified that I did not know where I was, but mostly terrified to be alone there in the recovery area. My parents lived far away and my surgery was performed on a Monday, a day all my friends needed to be at work.

When Mary-Jean, the nurse tending to me, asked if I had any family in the waiting room, I told her — with words that shot stabbing pains up my abdomen — that I did not.

Mary-Jean then asked if she could get anything for me. What I craved first and foremost was water, but the doctor’s orders dictated I couldn’t have that yet, not even ice chips. And so, in my bewildered haze, I asked instead for three things.

The first was calming classical music.

The second was The Little Prince, a childhood favorite that my father often read to me as a child.

The third thing I asked for? Some sun.

I now remember this with some embarrassment. There I was, an adult supporting myself in a difficult city, regressed into a child. I was asking the impossible of Mary-Jean, someone who had several other patients in equally dire straits, someone who had been working for hours rushing from patient to patient with what I can only imagine were aching feet, someone who had never met me and had no obligation to care about my plight beyond getting me the right medications and taking my vitals. On top of that, I hadn’t brought headphones to listen to music, and I certainly did not have a copy of The Little Prince with me.

“I’ll try my best,” she said, gently and without even a dash of annoyance. She recommended that I sleep if I could, and assured me that while I was sleeping, she would come by every ten minutes to press the button that would flood my system with fentanyl and keep my pain at bay, so the pain wouldn’t wake me, and so that when I woke up, it would not be to a shock of agony. I thanked her with the fewest but most heartfelt words I could. “When I get out of here, I’d like to write you a long thank-you note.”

When I woke, Mary-Jean came by to see how I was doing. She touched my arm as a mother might, with comfort, while she took my vitals. “I remember what you asked for,” she said, though I barely remembered myself what I had requested. Then Mary-Jean introduced me to another nurse, a woman around my age named Kara, who cared for me during the brief time that Mary-Jean took her lunch break.

Mary-Jean came back in what seemed to be a fraction of a minute, but whether that was because the fentanyl had rearranged my sense of time or because her lunch “hour” was so short, I did not know. I asked her how her lunch was, only imagining the difficulty of working long shifts with short breaks to gobble down some food. “It was a great success,” she told me.

Then, like a magician, like Mary Poppins, like a loving parent, she pulled out two objects from a plastic bag: a pair of headphones and a paperback copy of The Little Prince. “And,” she said, “I’ve made a special request that you’ll be brought to a corner room with plenty of light.”

I write this now from my writing desk at home, at the same desk where I wrote Mary-Jean that thank-you note I promised: a letter of gratitude over three pages long. On a shelf just above my desk, I keep those headphones and that copy of The Little Prince that Mary-Jean brought to me in my greatest moment of vulnerability. I look at them every day, and when I do, I remember the tremendous kindness that exists deep within the core of people like Mary-Jean: a force so beautiful that it brought me the sun.

~Flora Dash

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