From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose


Appetite, with an opinion of attaining, is called hope; the same, without such opinion, despair.

Thomas Hobbes

“Good thing you got him here! Any longer and we would have had to remove part of his bowel. He has an inguinal hernia . . . if it had strangulated . . . ” I didn’t understand the medical jargon. The doctor was explaining my baby’s condition, but he might as well have been speaking French.

Johnny was seven months old when he screamed uncontrollably, despite all my efforts to appease him. I knew something was seriously wrong. I bolted into the emergency department. The ER doctor examined him and the next thing I knew I was signing papers for emergency surgery.

Fear numbed me as I inwardly prayed that Johnny would be okay. God was the only glimmer in my dismal life back then. At age twenty-three, I was struggling to support my three children. Our marriage was failing and we were separated. Again.

I’d survived mostly on government assistance since the birth of my first child, who was four years old. I’d quit high school during my twelfth year and later obtained my GED. My work history was sketchy, but I longed to be financially stable. I prayed earnestly for direction.

I spent as much time as I could with Johnny and I hated leaving him to be tended by strangers. While visiting, I noticed one of his care-providers was dressed in green while the rest wore the traditional white. I wanted to ask her why, but I was still dazed by everything and did not have the emotional energy for idle inquisitions.

One day I watched as she busied herself taking Johnny’s temperature. My curiosity overwhelmed me. “Why are you wearing a green dress?”

“I’m a nursing student,” she replied.

“What school do you attend?” I continued, just making conversation. She told me all about a one-year federally funded program.

“How do you become a part of this program?” I asked.

The friendly student smiled eagerly. “Let me tell you about becoming a nurse.”

With pride and enthusiasm she gave me a detailed account of what was necessary. I had never considered a nursing career, although since leaving high school, I thirsted for knowledge. As I listened to her, I felt the dying flame of hope rekindling. Could I do this?

During the following weeks I completed the list of prerequisites she shared with me. Everything was coming together fine. Then I discovered that having your own transportation was a requirement. “But I don’t have a car,” I explained to the program director. They could only accept thirty-two students and they screened carefully trying to select those most likely to graduate. She studied my face in silence.

“I will give you two months to get one,” she said hopefully.

Yes! I thought while thanking God for victory. My heart fluttered with excitement. I was scheduled to begin classes in two months.

“I’m going to be a nurse!” I proudly proclaimed to my family.

Their laughter was biting.

“Do you think you can be a nurse? You’ve never been around sick people.”

“I can see you fainting at the first sight of blood!” my mother added.

When I’d quit school it was no surprise to them because no one in my family had ever graduated. They meant no harm, but their thoughtless cruelty fueled my determination to succeed. I’m going to finish nursing school if only to show them, I pledged to myself.

On the starting date I woke with excitement, then gasped at the dramatic weather changes. Heavy snow covered the trees and roads. Fallen tree branches covered portions of the streets as far as I could see. I had slept through the worst ice storm in the history of our county. The radio recited a long list of closings. I was sure my school was among them, but I called to confirm. “No, we are open for classes,” the receptionist informed me. My father agreed to take me and came without a murmur.

We gathered in one classroom sharing our nursing aspirations. When I explained how I learned about the program, everyone was amazed that I started the same year that I applied. “I’ve been on the waiting list for two years!” was the common response from others. This confirmed what I already knew: this career move was orchestrated by God.

School demanded rigorous discipline. My children were ten months, two, and four. I had two in diapers and one in preschool. After a full day at school, I looked forward to spending time with them. By the time I got them fed, bathed, and prepared for bed, I was exhausted. I gathered my thick medical texts to prepare for study and was asleep in seconds. It was God’s grace and my thirst for knowledge that enabled me to earn good grades.

Things went well until the ninth month when I experienced medical problems and my doctor recommended bed rest. There was no way for me to miss classes and maintain passing grades.

“Take some time off to get better and return next year,” the director said. I was devastated, having anticipated graduation in only three months. I had invested too much to give up and was ready for my struggling to end.

With regained health I returned the following year. I was appalled to learn that only three months’ credit was granted for the previous nine months of toil. I pushed my anger aside and forged ahead. I worked harder than ever for nine months and I graduated, with my family smiling proudly in the audience.

After passing the state-mandated test, I became a licensed practical nurse. I submitted applications to all the local hospitals. When I talked to other classmates, they all had dates scheduled for orientation. I had not heard a thing. I debated whether to call and check on my application. Hesitantly, I phoned the hospital where I really wanted to work. “I’m wondering if you’ve been trying to call me . . . I’m in and out often . . .”

“Yes we have,” the human resource staffer responded.

Thus began my nursing career.

A few years later I entered college to become a registered nurse. That was twenty-three years ago and I thank God every day for calling me to serve others in this way.

Recently, as I cared for my patient, a weary-looking young woman visitor asked, “Is it hard to be a nurse?”

I detected a glimmer of hope in her eyes.

I smiled eagerly. “Let me tell you about becoming a nurse . . . ”

Jeri Darby

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