75: A Great Life If You Don’t Weaken

75: A Great Life If You Don’t Weaken

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

A Great Life If You Don’t Weaken

Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.

~John Quincy Adams

“I can’t do this,” I told my husband. “I don’t remember a word they told us about it.” Staring at the heparin solution and the hypodermic needle on the table and then looking at the Broviac-Hickman catheter coiled and taped in place against my daughter’s side, I was numb.

I waved the written directions at my husband, who stammered, “My mind is too foggy to read those directions. I can’t remember what they said about not getting air bubbles in the line.”

Our daughter Kim mumbled, “Well, I can’t do it and you can’t do it; call Nadine.”

Nadine was our neighbor who had worked at the local hospital, and then the school until retirement. Now she did private duty nursing. She was highly respected in the community and loved by children, including our daughter. To us, she was a good neighbor who was always saying, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” We didn’t know why she said that, nor did we realize that someday we would find out.

During the week before we left the hospital, the chemotherapy nurses had given us directions on how to care for the Broviac-Hickman catheter when we got home. We knew we had to flush it three times daily with heparin solution to prevent blood clogging the line, and we also knew we had to flick the tubing to rid it of air bubbles. As we watched the competent nurses care for the catheter in the hospital and listened to what they said, the procedure seemed easy enough, and the three of us were confident we could at least do that during this time in our lives when everything seemed out of control.

Now we had just gotten home after a sixty-five-mile drive from the hospital in pouring rain with a nauseated daughter. As we entered our cold empty house, we suddenly realized it was time to flush the catheter. But all we felt like doing was crashing into bed exhausted. All our confidence had disappeared.

My husband turned on the heat and I looked toward Nadine’s house. Although it was nearing midnight, her light was still on. I dialed her number and asked if she could come help us.

“I’ll be right there.” Within minutes, she came in our back door carrying a plate of homemade fried apple pies, Kim’s favorite. She sat the plate on the table and headed toward the kitchen. “Mind if I put on a pot of hot coffee?” she asked. “That is, if the smell won’t bother our girl. While I fix it, you can tell me what you need.”

“Oh, the pies smell yummy, and I think I could eat one,” Kim said. “The coffee smell isn’t bothering me.”

By the time we shared our need, Nadine had placed four cups of hot coffee on the table with four plates of fried apple pies. As the warm food coursed through our bodies and our house warmed, Nadine began preparing to flush the catheter as she chatted. “Now, let me share a little secret with you that I’ve learned in thirty years of nursing, on how to be sure there are no air bubbles.” Before we knew it, the catheter was flushed, she had left, and we collapsed on our beds in exhaustion.

The next morning arrived and it was time to flush the catheter for the first time that day. I feared that task, and so did my husband. “Nadine said to call her anytime if I needed anything, so I’ll just call her back.” When I called again, she said she’d be glad to come over.

The minute she walked in, she started talking. “I’ve just had the most wonderful idea. I’ve been thinking of your hardworking family. Dad, you take care of your family, your yard, and your job. Mom, you are such an outstanding teacher as well as wife and mother. And dear Kim, you are so good in academics and work hard in all you do. I’ve decided since the catheter has to be flushed three times a day and there are three of you, you can all help me out. You know, a nurse also has to be a teacher to her patients, and last night I taught you a procedure. I am going to let Dad re-teach me what I taught him last night, as he does the first flush of the day. Then Mom, I want you to re-teach me the procedure on the second flush of the day. On the last flush, our sweet Kim can re-teach me what I taught you last night. Even old nurses need to brush up on their skills, and you’ll be helping me see whether I’m a good teacher or not. After all, it’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”

What a wise nurse. What a great teacher. By the end of the day, all three of us had flushed the catheter without air bubbles or problems, and our confidence had returned. We also understood, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”

~Helen Wilder

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