Billie

Billie

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

Billie

The course of true love never did run smooth.

William Shakespeare

“It’s time again, Andy, roll over please,” said Billie, a registered nurse in the navy during WWII.

“At least it’s you again. You are the best nurse at giving shots. Even the other guys say so,” said Andy.

“I think I may be beating this malaria and dengue fever. I even walked for an hour this morning.”

“Good for you, Andy. It will be important to get your strength and stamina back once the infection is gone.”

“I can’t wait to go dancing again, and Billie, I’d like to go dancing with you.”

“I’d like that too,” she said coyly. “And it’s a good goal for you.”

Andy began asking Billie about herself and her family whenever she came close to his bed or gave his frequent injections. He learned that Billie had been orphaned at age ten and had a younger brother and sister, but few other relatives. She loved school, did well in her studies, and tutored many children who lived in the houses in which she earned her room and board by cleaning and doing laundry. When she graduated from high school she had planned to become a teacher, until a friend invited her to check out the Mount Carmel Hospital Nursing Program. Billie decided to apply because “You lived at the hospital and meals were free.” After completing her studies, she joined the U.S. Navy as a nurse.

Once Andy was well enough, he and Billie courted on the dance floor as often as possible. Their love grew even as the war and their roles in it became uncertain. Andy enjoyed the way Billie made all the soldiers forget, for a time at least, their severe wounds, or lost limbs or eyesight. She took them out for picnics on the hospital grounds and got them to sing or tell stories. Sometimes she would have them do impromptu skits, even putting makeup on them.

When Andy was considered rehabilitated, the Marine Corps decided to send him to preflight school. Andy knew he didn’t want to lose Billie from his life. They were at the Claremont Hotel dancing as the Russ Morgan band played Together when he asked Billie to marry him.

She replied, “Yes,” in a low whisper.

He gave her a bracelet with his initials on it, made from a piece of metal from a Japanese kamikaze plane, retrieved when he was on an island in the Pacific.

Andy left for flight school and Billie was ordered to the naval hospital at Pearl Harbor in late 1944. By this time she had been promoted to lieutenant and she was proud of that accomplishment. She felt nursing meant more than providing medical services and again worked hard coming up with ways to take the soldiers’ focus off their wounds. She adapted to Hawaii, and made coconut-shell bras and grass skirts for them to wear as they did skits or songs. Going to the local beaches for outings and picnics also helped them forget their pain.

Almost daily letters kept Billie and Andy’s romance alive—until he was critically injured in a car accident. The doctors told his parents he would likely not survive. Of course, he couldn’t write to Billie for months and she began to wonder if he had changed his mind about her.

Fortunately one of Andy’s nieces found out about Billie once he could talk a bit. She sent Billie a letter explaining what had happened. It seemed like the romance was going to continue for sure. Then one day Billie received this letter from Andy:

My condition is quite bad and I know it will take me ages to get back to a somewhat normal mode of living.Of course, I do not know exactly how my condition is, or if it will hamper me in the future. Therefore, I do not want to subject you to a life caring for a “sickly man.” I love you, darling, in fact so much that I would sacrifice anything for you, but I do not want you to be burdened because of me.

Billie answered quickly that her love could not make a burden of her life with him whatever his physical condition.

With this hope, Andy recovered, and after the war ended and Billie’s enlistment was up, she met him in Laramie, Wyoming, where he was studying to be a geologist. They married ten days later.

Billie started working at the university clinic as a charge nurse. Then she worked as a volunteer school nurse in her children’s school or in a doctor’s office as head nurse until she was sixty-five. Many patients who had regularly scheduled shots would ask if their appointment was on a day Billie was working. “You are the best nurse at giving shots,” they said.

She joined the Retired Nurses Association and volunteered annually at the local health fair. Billie kept her nursing license active until she was seventy-five. The last year she had her license, people were still claiming, “You are the best nurse at giving shots.” During her daily walks, she carried her blood pressure cuff and stethoscope because she monitored many of her neighbors’ blood pressures along the way.

Andy died at a young fifty-eight. Long after, Billie’s engagement bracelet was still seldom off her wrist. It broke just three weeks before she died.

Her two big questions during her final days were, “How do assisted-living staff expect to pass inspection with the way they make the beds?” And, “Kerrie, what’s taking your dad so long to come pick me up for the dance?”

Kerrie G. Weitzel

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