His Heart

His Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

His Heart

There are times when God asks nothing of his children except silence, patience, and tears.

C. S. Robinson

As I rode the elevator to my evening shift on the seventh floor of the cardiac step-down unit, I wondered, Did anyone get a heart today?

I looked over my assignments and noticed a new name. Ah, a fresh audience for my elephant jokes. Robert, as I will call him, had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and was awaiting a heart transplant. I read his chart, then put on my best smile as I stepped into his room to introduce myself. His wife was at his bedside, but stood to kiss him good-bye as I entered. She needed to make the long drive home, she said, to care for their two boys, ages nine and ten.

Robert was a quiet man in his late thirties and a long way from home. Every day his family stayed in touch by telephone and letters, but they could not visit often. Tall and thin, Robert walked the halls for exercise.Wearing our blue issued pj’s and blue-striped robe with matching slippers, he always looked the same. Even in the hospital attire, he was neat and usually smiling.

Tethered to our floor by his portable telemetry unit, Robert was a hostage. Sometimes he roamed out of range, and the central monitor alarm alerted me of his “escape.” I always knew where I would find him . . . by the windows overlooking the helicopter landing pad.

After yet another alarm, I walked to Robert’s window seat. He greeted me with “Hi, Warden! I know I’m out of range.”

I smiled and stepped closer. “How you doing today, Robert?”

He nodded toward the landing pad. “Thea, I watch the copters come and go. I keep wondering if my heart is out there. I have asked God to help me not to be selfish in wanting this heart. I know for me to live someone must die. And loved ones are faced with making a choice; a choice to donate the organs.”

I nodded and gently led him back within range.

Robert stayed on our unit for more than thirty days. I became his link to the outside world, giving him daily weather reports, commenting on current events, telling countless elephant jokes—anything to keep him laughing and comfortable. After a month of in-hospital days, some patients may show their cabin fever by being irritable. Not Robert. I knew he was having a bad day only when his door was closed. And he didn’t close his door often.

One evening as I checked his vital signs, he sighed. “I’m having a really tough day. I miss my family. It’s been so long since I’ve seen my boys. I didn’t even go to the window today.”

Later that evening, I learned there was a confirmed donor and match for Robert. Suddenly, the unit flew into a frenzied heart-prep mode. I was pleased to be on duty for this moment, especially since I was scheduled for vacation the following week. Thank you, Lord, for such good timing. Bless the family whose loved one has died. Thank you for the gift of life they gave to another.

Robert’s wife and sons arrived and the air was electric as joyful tears flowed. After the final preps, I placed the blue surgical cap on Robert’s head. “Make certain you come and see me when you get the color back in your cheeks.”

He smiled. “Thea, I won’t leave this place till I come up and see you.”

With that, the OR team wheeled Robert to the surgical suite to begin the cardiac transplantation. From there, he would spend several days in ICU.

I returned from my vacation well rested and was working with a nurse we called “Mother Teresa.” In addition to sharing my belief in God, she was a person to count on. As we prepared the 6:00 PM meds, we made small talk.

I looked down the hall. There was Robert, walking toward me in his usual blue pj’s, blue-striped robe, and matching slippers, with his hands in his pockets and a beautiful smile on his face. I waved to him excitedly and said to Theresa, “There’s Robert. He looks great!”

Then I felt her firm but gentle hand on mine. I turned to look into Mother Teresa’s soft blue eyes. I stared at her for a moment, then said, “No one’s there. Right, Mother?”

As she squeezed my hand, I searched her face for any hint she might think I was losing my mind. Instead she said, “I believe you saw Robert. But no one is there.”

She hugged me, but I quickly pulled away. “Oh, Teresa, I need to go to ICU. Robert said he would not leave until he came to say good-bye. He always kept his word.”

I hurried to the fourth-floor ICU. “Which room is Robert in?” The desk clerk gave the number but then added, “He’s in cardiac arrest.”

My spirits sank. I stepped to Robert’s doorway and watched the heroic efforts of the doctors and nurses to bring him back. I sent up frantic prayers for his recovery and left while the code was still in progress.

Back on my floor, I told Teresa that Robert was in cardiac arrest. We prayed together for him, then got word that he died.

I smiled as I wiped away tears. Robert had kept the promise he made to me. He came to see me before he left this place.

Thea Picklesimer
as told to Sandra P. Aldrich

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