65: It’s Not What You Lose

65: It’s Not What You Lose

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

It’s Not What You Lose

A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.

~Henrik Ibsen

My husband, Jude, suffered his first heart attack when he was thirty-eight years old. He had been sailing on Lake Huron with our seven-year-old son, who miraculously followed my husband’s instructions and brought the boat safely into harbour.

Jude changed his diet, began exercising regularly, and valiantly attempted to stop smoking. He purchased a filter for the cigarettes and then tried a pipe and then added a highly touted filter for the pipe, all to no avail. The tobacco and its additives had him in its grip.

There were two more heart operations — both of them bypasses. Then five years later, the dreaded but predictable diabetes, awaiting many heart patients, set in.

Panic gripped both of us as one doctor after another made the diagnosis that his left leg from below the knee down needed to be amputated.

The evening before the slated operation, I sat on the side of his hospital bed and held him in my arms as he cried. “I won’t be able to live like this,” he told me. “A walker. Crutches. A cane. Hobbling along behind you and the boys. Nothing to do but sit. Nowhere to go. I’m too young for this.” He truly believed he no longer had a life worth living. I had never before seen him in such a state of absolute despair, so thoroughly and wretchedly defeated.

We sat facing the far side of the private room and hadn’t noticed the nurse quietly pausing in the doorway. The tentative clearing of a throat alerted us to his presence. “If I may?” he spoke with gentle respect. “I couldn’t help but overhear.” He held up the stack of linen and hospital robes in his arms. “I was just coming in to stash these and… well, I heard… and…” He looked both abashed and determined. “I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. If I may?” he repeated.

And then, perhaps fearing that his courage would wane if he waited for our consent, which might or might not be given, he placed his bundle on a vacant chair and, taking one of the blue gowns, stepped into the bathroom. Moments later, the door opened. “It was a motorcycle accident,” he said softly but clearly as he looked into Jude’s swollen, startled eyes. “I was twenty-one.”

There stood our nurse, his gown wrapped demurely just below his underwear line. His soft-soled shoes and sports socks defined in sharp contrast to the flesh color of his prosthetics. “Both legs,” he said. “One above the knee. One below.”

Jude sat, stunned, blinking back his tears.

“It’s taken me a few years,” the nurse continued shyly. “I’m twenty-six now. But while I healed my body and my mind, while I did session after session of therapy, I also went to school… maybe something I otherwise never would have done. Who knows? But as it was, I received a degree in nursing. I still play soccer — granted not as well as I would have in the Coast League where I played before, but I still play. I’m getting married next month and when I have kids, well…” He pointed to his prosthetic legs. “I guess what I’ve learned through all of this is that it’s not what we lose, like in our cases our legs, but what we do with what we’ve still got that really decides the outcome of…” He paused to draw a heavy breath, “…the rest of our lives.”

And at that, he turned back to the washroom, one leg of his bright red boxers showing below the unassuming blue hospital gown.

Jude slipped back against his pillow. “That young nurse…” He paused to shake his head. “After the operation, tomorrow, we’ll get started on our new future. I’m ready.”

~Robyn Gerland

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