The Call

The Call

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

The Call

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought;
and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

~G.K. Chesterton

I’d rarely dealt with residents and interns, and the thought of being responsible for them unnerved me. I resolved to put my best foot forward and be the coolest head in the hospital. Working with them, I was factual, objective and confident. Maybe a bit too confident for the senior resident, who didn’t seem to like me.

When I confided this to a coworker, she offered, “You don’t make it easy for him, Virginia. Oh, he’s impressed, all right, but he’s just waiting for you to do something so he can take you down a few notches.”

One afternoon, I admitted a seventy-five-year-old man with congestive heart failure. Our new patient was a big, barrel-chested man, about six feet tall, with white hair and large hands gnarled with arthritis. His strong, regal voice boomed through the unit. But he was in trouble. We tried to dry his lungs and pump up his heart, but he grew progressively worse. At 7:38 P.M., he coded.

After we worked on him for about forty minutes with every approved and experimental drug available, his heart was unresponsive. For the umpteenth time, his rhythm wobbled to nothing on the oscilloscope.

Suddenly, I began shouting his name over and over. I didn’t even know I was doing it until the resident shook my shoulder and said sarcastically, “Shouting won’t bring him back to life. He can’t hear you. He’s dead.”

I cringed at the image of me leaning over the dead man, calling into his ear. I was mortified to realize I was acting like a rookie, especially given the scientific fact that he was no longer alive. I tried to say something in my defense but couldn’t explain why it was so vital for me to keep calling his name.

Disgusted, the resident turned away to record the time of death.

Then I saw the heartbeat start up again on the monitor. “He’s back!”

Within minutes, to everyone’s amazement, the patient stabilized.

I went back to the nurses’ desk, still perplexed by my irrational behavior. Apparently my coworker was, too. “Why did you keep yelling at him?”

“I—I don’t know. I just had to,” I admitted, helplessly racking my brain for a reason. “I just couldn’t help it.... ”

I was even more bewildered the next afternoon when I reported for duty and the day nurse told me the patient had been furious with me all day and wanted to see me the minute I came on duty. I groaned as I walked dispiritedly toward his bed, wondering again what had come over me to make me act so foolishly that I angered this grand, old gentleman.

I pulled back the curtain around his bed to see him glaring at me. “So you’re the one who wouldn’t let me go!” he challenged.

“Yes, Sir,” I said in a low voice.

“Did they tell you I was going to sue you for malpractice?”

“No, Sir.”

“Do you think you’re God? Why did you think you had the right to call me back?” He held his hand up to keep me from interrupting. “I was on the way out, and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever known. But someone kept calling me and calling me. I was so mad I hollered at you all night!”

I stammered, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know what I was doing. Will you please forgive me?”

“Oh, my God, yes!” he said huskily. “Without you, I wouldn’t have known my granddaughter loved me. See, I thought she never wanted to see me again, but when she heard I was in the hospital she tried all night to get a flight, but couldn’t get here until this morning. And,” his voice choked, “if you hadn’t called me back I would have died thinking she hated me. But she loves me. She told me today. Imagine that. And I have a great-granddaughter, too!” He paused, then added, “All I wanted was to stay in that beautiful light, but I’m glad you didn’t let me. I’m glad you didn’t give up.”

He chuckled at the equal measure of relief and embarrassment chasing across my face. He closed his eyes and said with a sigh, “I guess neither one of us knew what we were doing, eh?”

I nodded in mute acknowledgment.

The grand, old man died later that same night with his granddaughter at his side.

I don’t know what overtook my objectivity that evening so long ago when I relied on something beyond science, beyond myself. But I’ve come to depend on it in a large way—especially when I need to come down a few notches.

~Virginia L. Clark

Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul

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