87: Nurse Sheila

87: Nurse Sheila

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Nurse Sheila

No love, no friendship can cross the path of our destiny without leaving some mark on it forever.

~François Mauriac

My childhood friend Sheila attracted friendships easily with her warm, sincere and loving nature. And so too, she attracted me. We became pals when her family moved into the Veteran’s Housing Development where I lived as a young girl in the early 1960s. During that time, many of our country’s veterans took advantage of their well-earned G.I. benefits and stayed in the development just long enough to save money to buy a home. Others passed through as they waited for their next appointed military station. Some families like mine stayed. My father, having served our country during World War II, was happy to settle into the Veteran’s Housing Project, where we put down roots and forged friendships. Sheila was mine.

We played together endlessly in the old neighborhood. Sheila was easy to be with and fun to be around. We shared the same interests and were in the same elementary school classrooms and Girl Scouts. Our lives meshed as we shared our secrets, dreams and aspirations.

But in time, to our great sadness, Sheila’s family moved on, too. We said our goodbyes and promised to stay friends, but as so often happens in life, after a while we didn’t keep in touch.

At age thirty-nine, out of the blue, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. This was a complete shock to me; I had no family history of cancer. I was a runner, a non-smoker and consumed little red meat. I drank a glass of wine only occasionally and overall took very good care of myself. “How could I have cancer?” I asked. I felt my body had betrayed me with this aggressive disease.

After the diagnosis, life as I knew it ended. The next few weeks were a whirlwind of endless tests, scans and blood work. I headed for surgery for a “wide excision lumpectomy” of my left breast. After an extended time in recovery, I was brought to my room.

Much later, when I opened my eyes, it took a minute to remember where I was. The room was dark except for a dim light illuminating the equipment hanging from the metal pole. I was surprised I’d slept at all. Nausea from the anesthesia was so wretched and violent, I wondered if I might not survive. I reached for the receptacle placed at my side and was comforted for a moment when my fingers found the cold stainless bowl.

“Can I do anything for you?” That’s all she said, so softly that I wondered at first if she had spoken at all. I turned and looked at the nurse who had been sitting so quietly in the dark. The soft glow of the light highlighted her blond hair and pleasant smile. I wondered how long she had been there.

She stood and took my hand in hers; her sweet smile was just as I remembered. “Hi Jackie, it’s me, Sheila.”

There were no words at first, just a knowing and fullness of what had once been. The years evaporated. Sheila stayed with me throughout the evening. She held my hair back when I got sick, then cleaned me up when I was done. We began sharing stories. Memories flooded back. The old familiar comfort felt reassuring. I cried as I mourned my breast and my health, while Sheila was empathetic, understanding, and strong.

Routinely she checked my vitals and my wound and managed my pain. Most of all, she listened as I sorted through and vented my fears for the future. We talked into the night. Sheila imparted her medical knowledge and cited positive examples of the many women she knew who had beaten breast cancer. She encouraged me to be strong and to fight. She praised the oncology department at the hospital. Eventually I fell asleep.

When I woke Sheila was gone, but remnants of the calmness she brought remained. I lay in the dimly lit room with only my thoughts. Our lives had once again meshed through our shared memories. Thanks to Sheila and her life-long warmth, sincerity and love, when dawn broke I greeted the new day and my future with an abundance of newfound hope… and friendship.

~Jacqueline Hickey

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