77: A Nurse’s Sixth Sense

77: A Nurse’s Sixth Sense

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

A Nurse’s Sixth Sense

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.

~Helen Keller

They weren’t even on call, those nurses who saved me. I was just coming in from my appointment with the orthopedic specialist, feeling excited and terrified, when I scurried to answer the phone on the last ring. At age thirty-three, after a lifelong struggle with an arthritic hip, I had just scheduled hip replacement surgery.

“Kathy, this is Mary Lu,” said my nurse-friend whom I hadn’t seen in months. “I’ve been thinking about you and wondering, have you decided what to do about that bad hip of yours?”

Our paths didn’t cross often because she was a dynamic, highly successful nurse, wife, and mother of two. She was too busy for casual phone chats, and today was no exception. Yet, from out of the blue, this intuitive, compassionate nurse somehow knew I was getting ready to change my life.

Fast-forward twenty-two years. That hip I received in 1985 did in fact change my life. It gave me years of pain-free mobility before it wore out and was replaced by a second prosthesis.

On the day I was being discharged from the hospital, the nurses were changing my dressings and I gasped in pain. Just then the phone rang. It was Mary Lu. When she heard my tears, she spoke softly, directing me to think about the warm sunshine I’d soon be feeling.

Unfortunately, I contracted a severe staph infection. The pain in that prosthetic hip took me to the limit of my endurance. “Oh God,” I prayed, “I need more strength. I need more help. I need more!”

That’s when the card from Mary Lu arrived in the mail. In my weakened state I could barely read it. I smiled at her kind note. But as I placed it on the nightstand a tiny inscription on the back called out to me. I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.

And there it was. This nurse-friend had sent me a card that bore, on the very back and in the tiniest print, the answer to my agonizing prayer. I had prayed for more strength, and I knew down deep in my aching bones, that God was going to give it to me abundantly.

On a chilly November day, Mary Lu came by to see me. My nervous system was badly shaken because of the infection and I sometimes spent whole days just weeping. Mary Lu wrapped me in warm clothes and navigated my wheelchair out into the back yard, winter-cold and gray. We sat in silence. Then she pointed at a bird on the wire above the house. “Listen, Kathy. Can you hear what your little friend up there is saying? ‘You’re going to be well. You are going to be strong. God is here. You are utterly safe.’ ”

And I have felt utterly safe from that day forward. How did Mary Lu know to call, and to write, and to come, and to speak the perfect words when she did?

The intuitive compassion of other nurse-friends continued to astound me.

Karen was a powerhouse nurse at a labor and delivery hospital. One night, somehow sensing that my husband Ben couldn’t stay awake with me one more hour, she arrived at the hospital, put her sleeping bag down on the floor, and huddled with me for the long night of bright lights, 2 a.m. blood draws, and my endless weeping. How on earth did she know I would need her so desperately that night?

A few weeks later, when I was home, Karen and our friend Patty came to visit. Ben played the piano as they sang the comforting carols that are the soundtrack of my life. I tried to sit up straight and be strong and grateful. The minute Ben left for work Karen’s whole affect changed. “Okay, Kathy, you did great. You were strong. You gave Ben the comfort he needed in order to leave you and go to work. Now lie down and I’ll give you a massage.” Tears of gratitude and relief poured out from me. As she gently massaged my neck she soothed, “You are so tired of this pain. You are so weary from the struggle. It’s okay. Just let it all out. It’s okay to cry. I’m crying with you.” How did she know the touch and words I needed?

Laura, the outstanding emergency room nurse, brought wonderfully nourishing meals and patiently helped me navigate my crutches through the mall at Christmastime. How did she know that my beauty-starved soul needed to be fed with music and lights?

Jean, my lifelong nurse-friend, lived in Anchorage and was monitoring my many hospitalizations with growing distress. Intuitively, she called me and immediately assessed that I was losing ground quickly. She questioned why no surgery date had been set for the dreaded placement of the new hip. Jean called my surgeon and discovered that he was unaware of my weakening state; I had been too ill to keep his office appraised. He immediately scheduled the surgery because in ten days he was leaving the country for several months. If Jean hadn’t made that call, I know without a doubt I would never have endured until his return. Given my complicated medical history, he was the only doctor in the region who could perform this surgery. How did she know her call would save my life?

They weren’t even on duty, these nurses. They were beloved friends. But they each possessed that unique sixth sense, the supernatural gift of great nurses. They sheltered me safely back to my life. And I have lived it abundantly ever since.

~Kathy McGovern

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