A few months into my first nursing job, I met Michael, the patient who put me on the road to true nursing. Still limping down the painful road from enjoying success in nursing school to putting it into practice, I drove home most days thinking, “I can’t go back tomorrow. I can’t go back tomorrow.” I lived in terror of getting caught alone with a patient whose survival depended on all that “nursing magic” that had so far eluded me. Orienting on an acute dialysis unit, my only useful skills were a pretty good nursing vocabulary, understanding of aseptic technique, and the complete understanding that there was no question too stupid for me to ask. I would have never have made it if my supervisor had been one of those who “ate her young.” (terrorized new nurses)
I was assigned to care for Michael. Though I didn’t voice it, I thought Michael’s family ought to think twice before subjecting him to dialysis. He was thirty-six years old with Down’s Syndrome and its many cardiac complications, diabetic, had hepatitis B, and now needed dialysis. I worried about how he would deal with it at his three-year-old functional level. Selfishly, I dreaded caring for him, thinking he would challenge my meager nursing skills.
I could have saved my worry. Michael stole every heart in the dialysis unit. He was smiling when his mother brought him in, did everything he was asked, dealt with his pain, and was the kindest patient I ever had the privilege of caring for. I loved him dearly, and treasured every moment I got to spend with him over the short three years I had the gift of being his nurse. Thanks to Michael, I learned compassion and humility. Every soul has value and something to share.
As I hold my tiny granddaughter, I remember melting into my grandma’s pillowy softness and smelling her Cashmere Bouquet Talcum Powder unaware she’d ever played any role but “Grandma.” Though I’d always heard Mother address her as “Mama” I stung with jealousy when I found out Grandma actually was her mother. I felt as though they’d somehow cheated me by knowing each other first. My first conscious memory was of toddling barefoot behind Grandma as we headed out to see her chickens. I spotted a road-grader and strayed off the path to investigate, stepping into a nest of sand-burrs, those mean little stickers that hide in short grass. I howling as Grandma hurried over with her flat-edged shovel and seated me on it as she pulled the stickers out of my tender feet.
We went on to check on the chickens where Grandma praised Della, her Dominecker Hen for laying a double-yoked egg yesterday, remarking to the others they might consider doing the same. She told Sally not to start acting “Broody.” She didn’t have enough eggs to “set” her yet. She counted her chickens and found Susie missing. Grandma got a long stick and poked under bushes till she flushed Susie out from her “stolen” nest. I felt so important crawling way under the bush bringing back two warm eggs. Chiding Juanita, a ornerny red hen, she threatened to invite her to Sunday Dinner, saying “You’ll make some mighty fine dumplings if you don’t lay a couple of eggs this week!” I wasn’t that invested in Juanita and don’t recall whether we had dumplings or not.
The barn fascinated me most of all as I peeked through the crack between its chained doors at the child’s table and chairs stored in its mysterious shadowy interior. My grandparents and uncle had only rented the furnished house. The barn and its contents were off limits to me. Nothing could have made it more desirable as I imagined the treasures it held. Surely, there was a tricycle, a wagon, and since it was a barn, of course, a pony! The longer I was denied, the more the list grew. Never was a child so deprived or tormented by desire.
I do hope my little one recalls sweet stories of our our times together one day.
You probably don’t remember me,but I was your nurse. I took care of you when you had your baby, took care of your sick child, comforted you when you were in pain. I worked extra shifts on holidays and weekends because you needed me. I rejoiced when you got better. Cried with you when you needed a friend and tried to help you find the answers. I sang and talked to you when you seemed unresponsive because I knew you were in there. I brought Easter baskets for your children so they wouldn’t be disappointed when they came to see you on Easter. I hugged you and your family. I talked to you about things outside the hospital to give you something else to think about, trying to bring you a story that would interest you everyday, unless you just needed me to be quiet with you. I was there for your miracle and to hold your hand when you died talking to Mama. I never corrected you, knowing it was her hand you were holding.
Nursing was my job, but taking care of you was my privilege. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life.
I stumbled onto your first post yesterday. I was moved by your struggle dealing with sexual abuse and bipolar disorder. I congratulate on having the courage to open your heart to a caring community of people who will support you in your struggles and joy. You have found friends who will come to depend on you as you will depend on them. Continue reading