Stumbling onto Something Real

Stumbling onto Something Real

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

Stumbling onto Something Real

Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.

Victor Hugo

I had just returned to Milwaukee after nine years in Colorado. Discouraged and brokenhearted after a failed engagement, I took a nursing position at a local hospice and enrolled in graduate school. I think that is how I got so many college degrees—whenever my life wasn’t working, I went back to school.

About the third month on the job, a young man named Michael was admitted to the unit. Only thirty-three years old, he was dying of a brain tumor. An engineer and accomplished skydiver,Michael owned a business designing skydiving equipment. I was assigned to be his primary nurse.

I walked down the hall and entered Michael’s room to get a psychosocial history before planning his care. He was reclining in a leather Barcalounger watching TV, his half-eaten tray of lunch food pushed to the side. He was paralyzed on the right side from the tumor; his cane leaned against his chair along with the nurse’s call button.

After introducing myself, Michael made it clear that he preferred to be called by his nickname, Shoobie. He explained that all of his skydiving friends have nicknames: Wishbone, Charlie Oatmeal, Freakbrother, Wildman, and others. Pulling out a picture calendar showing skydivers linked in a star free-fall pattern, Shoobie described how they went to jump meets across the country, often living out of the back of a van.

“See, that’s a ‘twelve-man,’” he explained. “It’s great! I’ve done it all. And I’m not done yet. You see, when I die, I’m going to roller-skate straight down Pikes Peak.” Then he erupted in peels of laughter.

There was a knock on the door and eighteen people walked into the room, several carrying six-packs of beer. With every person in the suite looking at me, Shoobie asked if they could have a party. Never one to worry about rules, I assured them it was fine and closed the door on my way out.

Shoobie—always the host, always in a good mood, joking with his friends—shared many evenings like that with the skydivers. I was impressed at how many nice people he knew and how much they thought of him.

One evening after his friends left, he asked, “Why do you look so sad tonight?”

I soon found myself telling him about my failed engagement, and my history of dating losers.

“You need to find someone, a nice guy; a hero in your life.”

“Yeah, I guess I do need to find a nice guy, but heroes are hard to find.”

“We are all heroes to each other. You have helped me so much; you need to find someone that helps you. Like I said, you need to find a nice guy. Someone like Charlie Oatmeal.”

Laughing out loud, I responded, “Charlie Oatmeal! He’s not my type. He’s too quiet, too soft-spoken. Don’t be silly!”

Talking softly, Shoobie said, “Maybe the type you want isn’t the type you need. Look for what you need.” With that, he got into bed.

I thought carefully about what Shoobie had said. Maybe Shoobie came into my life for a reason, just as I had entered his. Maybe Shoobie was right. Perhaps what I needed wasn’t what I had been looking for.

As we entered the dog days of summer, it was clear that Shoobie was deteriorating. Not as many friends came anymore and Shoobie had limited energy when they did. He began to have more and more days where he slept most of the day, and eventually was barely conscious. There were times the nursing staff thought he would die in his sleep, only to find him sitting up and lucid a couple of hours later.

After one particularly difficult day, the elevator doors opened and I intercepted Charlie Oatmeal as he started down the hall.

“Charlie, Shoobie really isn’t doing very well. You may not want to stay.”

He paused for a minute, and then looked me in the eyes. “Will he know if I am here?”

“Well yes, perhaps. They say even people in a coma can hear. He’ll probably know you’re here.”

“Well, that is good enough for me. He might need me.” He turned and started down the hall to Shoobie’s room.

Charlie spent the next six hours sitting at the bedside, talking with Shoobie. Holding his hand, he related one skydiving story after another. When free, I went down to sit on the other side of the bed and listen. Occasionally, Shoobie would smile as Charlie talked of jumping nude into the Running Bear Nudist Colony or being stranded in a cornfield, miles from the drop zone.

“You know the best jumpsuits ever made were sewn by Shoobie,” Charlie said to me. Shoobie smiled.

“No, I didn’t know that,” I said softly, watching carefully. Shoobie was right. There was something very special about Charlie. A special kind of person that sits at the side of his dying friend telling stories and making sure he is not alone. I found myself staring at Charlie as he comforted his friend that night. I was struck with the feeling that maybe this was the hero I had been waiting for.

Shoobie died two days later. He was given a skydiver’s burial; the body cremated and the ashes taken to 10,000 feet. Charlie participated in the burial jump and described how the contents from the urn slowly rose in a spiral as a stream of light came down through the clouds.

The next week, Charlie called me and asked me out.

We were married the following spring, and honeymooned in Colorado. I could have sworn I heard roller skates when we were at the summit of Pikes Peak.

Barbara Bartlein

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