63: Good Night Nurse

63: Good Night Nurse

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Good Night Nurse

Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen, both when we sleep and when we wake.

~John Milton

I don’t remember much about my stay in a Dallas, Texas hospital. All day people would come and go, never breathing a word. I felt like my bed was an open casket. People peered down at me as if expecting to find a corpse.

My temperature hovered stubbornly at 103 degrees during the day, then shot up to 105 and 106 degrees at night. The doctors told me I had a life-threatening infection in my abdomen caused by a sexually transmitted disease. I felt so ashamed and dirty. My body ached like an arthritic old woman, although I’d just turned nineteen. Since sleep eluded me, I just lay in bed, terrified of dying and certain I was going to hell. I should’ve been fighting for my life, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to live.

Enter Jean, the night nurse. She’d step into my dark room, her white uniform gleaming. As she came closer, the polyester in the fabric rustled like angel’s wings. Her shoes made squeaking noises on the recently washed floor. After recording my vitals, she always leaned in close and whispered, “Still having trouble sleeping? Can I bring you a wet cloth? That forehead of yours is hotter than a Fourth of July picnic.”

It took effort for me to speak. “Yes. Thank you.”

Jean would disappear into the bathroom, then reappear holding comfort in her hand. “This cloth will cool you down. Do you want another gown? You’re perspiring more than a West Texas field hand. I grew up on a ranch so I know what it is to sweat.”

Jean would sit me up in bed and pull a clean gown over my head. For a minute, I was like a doll in her hands, but I quickly sank back in bed, too weak to properly thank her.

I considered Jean’s visits my little taste of heaven since I figured I’d never go there. I couldn’t see her well, though. Not because of the dim light, but because I hadn’t brought my contacts to the hospital. Her face was a blur. Her white uniform and large frame gave her the appearance of being some kind of spirit floating nearby.

Jean appeared beside my bed for four days and nights. “You have beautiful hair. But it’s matted to your head. How long has it been since you washed it?” I mumbled something that most likely wasn’t helpful.

“My shift is over at 6:30 in the morning. How about I come back then and we’ll wash that hair. You could use a shower and a new gown, too.”

“I’m not sure I can stand. My legs feel like mush.”

“Don’t you worry. I’ll make sure you don’t fall. You’ll feel better once you’re spiffed up.”

My smile was weak, but it let her know I was on board with her plan.

True to her word, Jean returned to help me down the hall to the bathroom with a shower. The huge bottle of penicillin hanging from a contraption over my bed accompanied us. The area where the IV entered my hand felt like a bee sting. When we arrived at the shower area, the glare of lights put Jean in a spotlight of sorts as she stood close to me. Her face was scarred by acne. Her thin red hair was pulled back in a tight bun, but wisps fell down and across her face. Occasionally, she brushed them away with the back of her hand, but to no avail. Despite the scarred face and messy hair, a pair of the kindest green eyes shone behind wire-rimmed glasses.

The shower became a balancing act for Jean, one that she handled beautifully. She held me around the waist with one hand and washed me with her other. Being rubbed down with a cool washcloth and feeling the water splashing down my spine took me back to happier days when my mother gave me a bath as a child. Then Jean washed my long dark hair like a hairdresser would, gently rubbing my scalp. I didn’t want my shower to end.

Once it was over, Jean dressed me in a new gown and wrapped my hair in towels. After helping me back to bed, she spent her time off towel-drying my tresses. Some of my pain must have washed down the drain in the shower or worn off onto the fuzzy towels.

“Thank you,” I said, my voice barely audible.

“Somebody on days should have given you a sponge bath. Anything else I can do?”

“No. You’ve done enough.”

“Just want to help. I can definitely see you’re hurting. I’ll be back on the night shift, girlie.”

After Jean left, I tried resting. Sleep still wouldn’t come. The fever hung on tenaciously.

But Jean stood at my bedside every night, whispering, “You can beat this. God is on your side.”

It took five more days for my fever to break. After it did, the doctors sent me home.

I didn’t get to say goodbye to Jean. I tried contacting her later at the hospital, but they said she didn’t work that floor anymore. I couldn’t find her in the directory either. It would have been nice to thank her.

While convalescing at home, a friend sent me a book about angels. Leafing through it, I smiled. I knew how it felt to be visited by angels. They’re like Jean. There’s no need to wear corrective lenses to see them. Their wings rustle like tight-fitting polyester. And their shoes squeak. Just loudly enough so you’ll remember you were in their presence.

~Jill Davis

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