101: Profound Words

101: Profound Words

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

Profound Words

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.

~Lao Tzu

In the 1980s, I took a part-time weekend job as a hospice nurse, visiting terminally ill patients in their homes. After a month of on-the-job orientation, I was on my own. My first solo visit was to a young man dying of AIDS. His chart indicated he had been a hospice patient for only a short time and was near death. As I drove to his house I wondered what I could do for him. I wondered about his pre-AIDS life. Had he gone to college? What kind of work had he done? Had he been successful? Did his family disown him when he was diagnosed with this dread disease? AIDS in the 1980s. So many fears. So much still to learn.

As I got closer to his house, my anxiety kicked in. What would I be facing? Would he be alert? Would he welcome me or be irritable? I wondered about the wisdom of taking this hospice job.

The note on the front door indicated that it was unlocked. I knocked and walked inside. Slowly I climbed the stairs, wishing for more stairs. I heard a woman whisper, “She’s here.” The bedroom door was ajar. I was shocked to see a skeleton of a man. Although his eyes were closed, I hurriedly put on the gown, mask and gloves, hoping he didn’t feel humiliated by my protective garb.

Walking into the room, I felt like a zombie. When I introduced myself, he gave a barely audible moan, never opening his eyes. I drew up the pain medication in the syringe, praying that there would be enough flesh to give the injection. He moaned again as I gently turned him on his side. “So sorry,” I said, as he winced with pain. This man, not yet thirty-five years old, was actively dying. There was so little I could do for him.

I asked him if I could ease him into the chair and straighten the sheets on his bed. He didn’t speak but nodded his head and opened his eyes. Could he see the compassion in my eyes above the mask? “So sorry,” became my mantra each time the look of pain crossed his face. He shook his head when I asked if he wanted a sip of water. He nodded when I inquired about moistening his parched lips. I was grateful I could provide some comfort to him.

I made brief notes in his medical chart and spoke with the care-giver. His sister looked lost in grief. Without wanting an answer, she quietly asked, “How can you do this kind of work?” I smiled and touched her shoulder.

Preparing to leave, I went to my patient to say goodbye. He murmured something, and I bent down closer to hear him. His words stunned me. Where did he get the strength to utter them?

He whispered, “There must be a special place in heaven for people like you.”

His name is long forgotten. His profound words will stay with me forever.

~Rosanne Trost

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