Fish Therapy

Fish Therapy

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

Fish Therapy

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.

e. e. cummings

Several years ago I had the pleasure of lounging around as a hospital patient for several days as the result of a staph infection. My profession was in health care and in fact I worked at this facility, so I knew many of the hospital staff well. Although it was a serious infection, I did not feel sick per se, and found myself on the receiving end of a few minor practical jokes, which of course were totally undeserved. (I swear I have no idea how the door to the supply cabinet in my room got stuck shut with a dozen strips of heavy-duty, two-sided tape hidden on the inside cabinet doorjamb.)

I awoke the second day of my stay when a nurse came in to change my IV fluids, which included several differing bags of solutions and antibiotics. I noticed immediately that she was carrying a large, old-fashioned glass bottle of fluid—at least a liter in size.

That’s odd, I thought.

Then I saw the three goldfish circling happily in the water. I spotted my friend Gary, the pharmacist, lurking nearby, and he, the nurse, and I laughed and carried on about my fish. For some reason, it just seemed right to name the three fish Larry, Moe, and Curly Gary, which was a slight misnomer since Gary was a few hairs shy of curly.

They started to take the fish away, but seeing opportunity rear its mischievous face, I asked them to wait a bit.

“Don’t tell the nurses on the next shift about the fish,” I suggested.

It’s amazing how easy it is to enlist silent coconspirators. I turned the bottle spout up and uncorked it so the fish could breathe until the afternoon.

As the 3:30 shift change approached, I recorked the goldfish bottle and hung it behind the largest of my IV bags so the fish were mostly out of sight. I then carefully taped extra tubing from the fish bottle to my IV line so that there appeared to be a connection.

Just after the shift change, I pressed the call button. “My IV has a problem.”

The lambs are always the first to be slaughtered, so a newly hired nurse who was recently out of school was dispatched to my room to check the IV.

As she entered the room, she asked, “Your IV has a problem?”

“I hate to harp, but I think maybe the IV line is blocked.”

She started checking the IV site at my wrist, as most nurses are trained to do. Seeing no problem, she traced the line upward, checking each connection. As she got halfway up multiple tubes, the movement of one of the fish caught her eye. She shrieked so loudly that I jumped even higher than she did, which must have been impressive considering both the height of her leap and that I was lying flat on my back. I am sure even the fish jumped.

When she landed, she covered her mouth with both hands and shouted, “Oh my God, oh my God!”

The laughter of her coworkers filled the doorway behind her. She turned toward them, fanning her face with her hand.

“Man,” I said, “you scared the bejeebers out of me! That’s no way to treat a patient!”

“Out of you!” she said breathlessly. “You should have been in my shoes!”

“Are they still on?” I smirked

I had high hopes for the next shift change, but that nurse simply came in, gave me a “You-are-so-busted, Mister” look, shook her head, and went about her business.

The next day, Larry, Moe, and Curly Gary were discharged and sent home to live happy goldfish lives as pets of one of the nurses’ children. The day after that, as I was saying a fond farewell to my hospital “gown” and preparing to go home, a patient from the adjacent room stopped at the doorway of my room and said, “You know, I’ve been in the hospital a lot recently, but this was absolutely my best hospitalization.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because laughter is good medicine.”

“Laughter is good medicine,” I chuckled. “Nurses and patients need a dose more often.”

Daniel James

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