Miss Benjamin

Miss Benjamin

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

Miss Benjamin

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.

Italian Proverb

My sleep was fitful, punctuated with the hospital sounds of muffled conversations and carts squeaking down the hall. It was almost morning. In my drowsiness, the unwelcome thoughts returned again . . . I don’t want to die! I’m only sixteen! I long for proms, and boyfriends, and . . . life!

A week before my doctor had discovered another large tumor in my head. I was snatched by my parents and driven to specialists at a university hospital in Michigan, over a thousand miles from my home in Florida. The experts ordered medical tests to help them determine how to save my life. Could they?

I didn’t hear the door to my hospital room open, but in the darkness I sensed a presence at my bedside. When she spoke, her voice was as sweet as slow, dark molasses.

“Sorry to wake you so early, sugar, but I need to take your temperature,” she announced, as she stuck a cold thermometer under my tongue. Then, with a touch as smooth as black velvet, she found the pulse in my pale wrist. When I peered up at her, the white nurse’s uniform was a stark contrast to the dark skin of the pretty woman standing next to my bed.

“What’s your name?” I asked sleepily.

“Miss Benjamin.”

It was the early 1960s and I lived in the South. I didn’t know many African Americans, but I instantly bonded with Miss Benjamin.

My parents rented a room from a family across the street from the hospital and befriended them. They had a son in his late teens named Don. He and his friend Tommy, worked at the hospital. Many early mornings they came before visiting hours to see me. Miss Benjamin cooperated with their illegal intrusions and allowed them to stay and lift my spirits.

After the doctors conferred, the news was grim. The massive tumor between my brain and my eyes would be removed immediately, but the risky operation could leave me blind. I felt there was little hope.

“The good Lord is going to take care of you,” Miss Benjamin assured me the morning of my surgery. Then her soft voice promised, “I’m scheduled to have the afternoon off, but I’m going to stay on duty and look after you.” Knowing she would be there eased my fear.

I survived the surgery and was relieved to see Miss Benjamin when I woke up. Yes, I could see her!

But the days of recovery were brutal. My face was wrapped in a beehive of gauze. The pain was intense when Miss Benjamin carefully changed the bandages. I felt scarred and ugly. I didn’t want the boys to see me. “Tell them not to come in,” I cried.

Early one morning I thought I heard pebbles hit my window.

“What’s that noise?” Miss Benjamin asked as she breezed through the door with a thermometer in her hand. Then she walked to the window, golden with dawn.

“Lord have mercy! I think you have visitors! Let me help you walk over here!”

I could see two heads poking over the edge of the roof a few feet above my window. Don and Tommy found a way to visit me, without making me self-conscious about my bandages. We talked, between the rooftop and the open window, that day and many more.

Miss Benjamin was a real sport about our teenage antics and she supported our clandestine encounters. Each morning, she walked me to the window, tugged it open, then tiptoed back as I greeted my friends.My hospital confinement was often excruciating, but the rooftop visits took my mind off my recovery and made my days exciting.

On the morning I was to be dismissed from the hospital and head home to Florida, I awoke early to the sound of pebbles hitting glass. I leaned out over the windowsill and looked up at the two handsome smiles beaming down from the roof. Miss Benjamin came into the room and put her arm around me. It would be the last time my special nurse and the two boys crouched on the roof would be part of my life

“Since you’re checking out today,” Tommy announced with a twinkle in his eye, “Don and I made something for you. Something that will remind you about what you loved most here.”

My two faithful visitors carefully lowered their gift.

I stared in disbelief at the papier-mâché likeness the boys had crafted. The face was brown with beautiful, gentle features. A black wig adorned the top of the head.

“We know how much you love Miss Benjamin,” Don called down from the rooftop. “Now she will always be with you.” And she is.

Miriam Hill

More stories from our partners