A Necessary Change

A Necessary Change

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

A Necessary Change

Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look there.

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

The early morning air powerfully penetrated the multiple layers I was wearing. The cold air stole my breath away. I quickly navigated the three blocks from home to work. As I hurried across the parking lot, I offered a quick, obligatory prayer asking God to help me care for my patients and families.

I finished getting report when the phone rang; my patient’s son wanted an update on his dad’s condition. I told him of Dick’s critical condition, trying my best to sound unhurried. I mentioned that if the family wanted to speak to the doctor, they would need to be here before eight o’clock that morning.

Another glance at my watch, and I hurriedly gathered my patient’s chart and headed for his room. Had I been too matter of fact? Was there compassion in my voice? I tried to dismiss the knot in my throat. The report I had received on Dick was grim. Dismissing the urge to pray, I focused my attention on thoroughly assessing him. The clock on the wall taunted me. I was behind my normal schedule. I completed Dick’s assessment and basic care, and hurried next door to my next patient.

I had barely begun my assessment when the charge nurse came to inform me that Dick’s wife was here. An hour behind. Taking a deep breath, I flung my charting aside and scuttled into Dick’s room. A short, blue-eyed, smiling woman greeted me. Her voice was soft like her fluffy white hair.

“Hello, I am Dick’s wife, Dianne.”

With a halfhearted smile, I gave my customary, “Hi, my name is Anne. I’ll be Dick’s nurse today.”

Before another word was spoken, more of Dick’s family walked in. Once again I updated them on his grave condition. I tried patiently to answer all their questions. It was the last comment by Dick’s daughter that blindsided me.

“How can you work in the intensive care unit and not go home every night crying?”

Her brown eyes questioned me; her words penetrated my bitter heart. Millions of thoughts darted through my head. I couldn’t tell her the truth, it would sound so callous: after six years in intensive care you get accustomed to death. Astoundingly, my mouth opened and my heart spoke for me.

“I couldn’t do this job without God,” I managed to say halfheartedly.

The corners of her lips rose for a brief moment, and then there was silence.

Without taking time to speak another word, I scurried out of the room with a troubled heart. When had I become so coldhearted? Am I really indifferent to death and suffering? I needed to talk to someone about this, but I didn’t have the time. I had to rid myself of this foreboding darkness pressing in on me.

I returned to the nurses’ station. As I sat charting, one of Dick’s doctors came into the ICU. I followed him down the hall toward Dick’s room.

“It doesn’t look good,” he muttered to me.

“His family is here to talk to you.”

“Nothing has changed. If the pneumonia doesn’t kill him, the cancer will. And with his bad heart and kidneys, he doesn’t stand a chance.”

“His family needs to know that.”

The doctor nodded.

I brought Dianne into Dick’s room and listened as she talked with the doctor.

My stomach churned as he spoke.

“Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do,” he said.

After such devastating news, I was astonished to see Dianne’s radiant smile. She is in denial, I thought.

Dianne stroked her husband’s hand.

A tear formed in my eye. It’s been years since I’ve cried at work. What on earth is happening to me?

I hustled out to continue my overwhelming assignment. Five hours into my shift the ventilator alarm sounded in Dick’s room. I rushed in to determine the cause. After a rapid assessment of Dick and the equipment, I hollered for the charge nurse to call the respiratory therapist. We failed at our endeavor to rectify the situation. Dick continued to struggle for air, even though he was on a respirator. My chest grew tight as I allowed myself to fully experience the severity of the situation. A bedside chest x-ray revealed a pocket of air in his chest, hindering his lung expansion and decreasing the air he received with each breath.

I rushed to the waiting room and ushered Dianne and her family into a small private conference room. I noticed Dianne’s eyes filling with tears as I stated plainly Dick’s condition.

She whispered, “So this is it?”

Like a melting iceberg, I felt my heart beginning to thaw. I swallowed hard trying to force the tears away. “Would you like to go see him?”

I helped her out of the chair and Dianne and I plodded toward Dick’s room. I had walked these halls many times that day, but my feet felt heavy and encumbered. With each step, I felt tremendous sorrow; I began envisioning what it would be like if I had to say good-bye to my husband. My heart beat rapidly in my chest, and my palms began to sweat.

Closing the door behind us, I watched Dianne take a deep breath, stand up tall, and march to the head of Dick’s bed. Leaning over she placed a gentle kiss on his forehead, “I love you, Dick. I always have. There won’t be a day goes by when I won’t miss you or think about you. But now it is time to go see your Savior. Jesus is here, Dick, and it is time for you to run into His arms.”

Tears flowed down my cheeks. I walked over to Dianne and put my arm around her. We said a prayer together. At her request, I went out and summoned the rest of the family. They gathered around his bed, and with heads bowed and tears flowing, they gave Dick back to his Lord.

As I helped Dianne and her family cope with the loss of their beloved, I experienced a revival in my spirit. Jesus forgave my indifference and renewed the compassion I needed to care for my patients and their families.

That night on my walk home I cried . . . for what Dianne lost . . . and I gained.

Anne Johnson

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