Memories of Polo

Memories of Polo

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

Memories of Polo

Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.

Socrates

Every time I smell the sweet pungent fragrance of Polo aftershave, memories take me back to the trauma intensive care unit. Almost twenty years of nursing and uncountable numbers of patients fade away when that sweet aroma floods my senses. Once again I am standing at Roy’s bedside.

Nursing was new to me then, but the unit wasn’t. I had worked as a nurse assistant at night and attended nursing school clinicals in the unit during the day. New graduates weren’t usually hired into the ICU, but to me it was home and, with the staff’s blessings, my first job as a graduate R.N.

I had little experience with death. It wasn’t discussed much in school. The doctors acted as if it was a dragon to be defeated at all costs. The experienced nurses told me death wasn’t the enemy. I didn’t really understand what they were trying to say.

Until Roy.

What he taught me about death brings a hot rush of tears as I write this. But nurses aren’t supposed to cry, are they?

“So sad,” Donna told the charge nurse as I walked up. Twenty years of nursing had etched a permanent look of concern on her grandmotherly old face. “You’re young, Sharon,” she said. “Maybe Roy will talk to you.”

“Why is he here?” I asked.

“Motorcycle accident,” she replied. “I’ll watch your patients, you go visit Roy.”

Time hasn’t dampened the rush of raw teenage emotion that met me at the door to Roy’s room. The tracheostomy tube didn’t affect his ability to communicate the anger and frustration he felt.

“I hate this place. I hate you. I want to go home,” he mouthed as I walked in.

His greasy, matted hair was plastered against his scalp. His thin, gangly body was lost in a jumble of wrinkled sheets and tubes. His eyes were dark brown and challenging. Fear and pain mixed in with his message, but what fifteen-year-old boy would admit that? His face was covered with acne and a sparse, peach-fuzz trace of beard. He reminded me of the abandoned puppy I had found on the side of the road. He also reminded me of my cousin Mark who’d been so excited and proud about the whiskers he had grown (about twelve hairs as I recall).

I looked seriously at Roy. “You sure can’t go out looking like this,” I said. “You need a bath and a shave, or are you planning on growing a beard?”

Roy looked at me wide-eyed. He rubbed his hand across his chin and grinned. The way his expression changed told me he was sure his beard must be thick . . . a man’s beard.

“A bath and a shave,” he mouthed. “I use Polo aftershave,” he informed me proudly.

“Polo it is then.”

The bath, shave, clean sheets, and pain medicine sealed our friendship. Bathtime became our nightly routine. Roy would drift off to sleep with the sweet smell of Polo filling his dreams with other places and situations far removed from the reality of his hospital room. Polo’s aroma lingered on my uniform and silently followed me as I worked.

Roy’s accident was a tragedy. He was from a small mountain town far from the hospital. His friend had a new motorcycle that Roy wanted to try. His dad said no, but Roy, in typical teenage style, rode it anyway, wrecking almost immediately. His chest was crushed against a telephone pole.

The left lung was unrepairable, the right lung damaged. Angry with his son and devastated by the doctors’ dire predictions, Roy’s dad refused to visit. Roy’s mom didn’t drive.

The sweet smell of Polo and the sound of MTV filled Roy’s room on my night shift. He loved baseball and bragged about his school team. We decorated his room with baseball posters and balloons. As he became more cooperative, the day shift began to spoil him too. Roy told me he had a younger sister.We couldn’t replace his family, but we were determined to make sure he felt special and loved.

The last week of Roy’s short life was a blur of activity as doctors and nurses worked to save him.Nurses don’t cry, I told myself as I charted on Roy’s last night.My tears fell anyway, ignoring my orders to keep a professional perspective.

“I’m not assigning you patients tonight,” the charge nurse said in report. “Roy has been asking for you and there is not much we can do now. He’s not expected to live until morning.”

“Does he know?” I asked, blinking back tears.

No one answered me.

Roy and I had never talked about death. We both were still young enough to think that death only happened to someone else.

As Roy began to die, he held my hand so tightly my fingers became numb. He begged me not to leave his side. I held his hand and whispered about baseball and a place called heaven where he would be free of pain, while my colleagues worked frantically, and he slowly suffocated.

“Good-bye Roy,” I told him as I bathed his now cold body and splashed Polo on his face one last time. As the sweet aroma filled his room, I began to feel better. Roy taught me what nursing school didn’t.

Sometimes death is the cure, and good nurses do cry.

Sharon T. Hinton

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