From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose


Men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, for everyone can see and few can feel.Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.

Niccolo Machiavelli

It was six o’clock Monday morning. My twelve-hour shift in the emergency room of a county hospital was about to come to a close, and I moved through the sterile rooms, silently grateful the weekend was over. These nights are the busiest of my workweek, when we see more accidents, more drunks, more stab and gunshot wounds. But, I thought, in one hour I can go home and climb into the security and comfort of my bed . . . an inviting thought.

Then, the emergency room front-door buzzer sounded. Glancing around, I realized I was alone in the ward. This was unusual, and it made me uncomfortable. I moved hesitantly toward the half-glass door that led to an outside ramp. In the pale light that dawned just over the horizon and split through the tall pine trees around the hospital, I could make out the figures of two young black men. They were dressed in grunge, their heads wrapped in do-rags. Neither of them appeared to be in distress, and I felt a chill run through me. If they were part of a gang, I surmised, they might be here to rob the narcotics cabinet. At ninety-five pounds, I would be no match for them. Still, I unlocked the door and pushed it open.

“Can I help you?” The question sounded meek, even to me.

“We’ve got a man out here we think is having a heart attack,” one of the young men answered.

That’s when I noticed an elderly white man leaning over the cab of an old pickup truck. My nursing instincts took over. I immediately called for help. The maintenance man, who happened to be close by, aided me in getting the man into a wheelchair as the two black men rattled off their story.

“The old man drove up to the service station. Said he was having chest pains and could we tell him where the nearest hospital is. That’s when we said, ‘We’ll take ya, man.’”

I marveled that, given their appearance, the old man had given them his keys.

We got the man into an examination room, leaving the two young men behind. As we began triage, the patient began to panic. “My dog’s in the truck!”

“That’s okay, sir,” I soothed. “We’ll have someone take care of your dog.”

“You don’t understand,” he continued. “Mutsy’s over twenty years old. She can’t take the heat.”

At his insistence, an orderly was sent to the truck to open the windows for the dog.

“All I have is Mutsy,” the old man told us. “It’s just Mutsy and me, traveling around the States.”

The orderly returned with a box of pill bottles he found on the front seat. I was stunned to see that none of the bottles had labels. One was filled with aspirin, a common prescription for heart patients.

“Sir, can you tell me how much aspirin you take a day?” I asked.

Kind, watered-down eyes focused on the bottle in my hand. “Oh, that’s not mine,” he informed me. “That’s Mutsy’s.”

The respiratory therapist came in. “Carla, you’ve gotta see this dog! He’s Benji with an overbite!”

Once our patient was stabilized, the doctor on duty told him he would need to be kept for observation.

“What about Mutsy?” he asked.

“Don’t worry about Mutsy,” the R.T. said. “She’s going home with me.”

He thanked us. “By the way,” he added, “do you know who those two young men are?”

In the efficiency of my work, I had forgotten about them. “No, sir. I don’t.”

“They sure were nice,” he said.

A quick check of the emergency area proved the men were gone.

I chastised myself as I recalled my initial reaction seeing them standing on the other side of the ER door. I wish I had taken their names so we could thank them properly. But in my heart, I knew they didn’t come to the aid of the man for a pat on the back. They came because, underneath their gang-style clothing, pure hearts were beating.

Carla Tretheway
as told to Eva Marie Everson

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