Chicken soup for the nur.., p.12
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       Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul, p.12

           Jack Canfield
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  How I longed to believe I would someday return to nursing. The yearning left me feeling ashamed of my selfishness.

  I argued, first with myself, then with God. There were so many reasons for gratitude. Countless people had prayed for me. I was still alive, still a child of God, a wife, a mother and a grandmother. I tried to keep a sense of perspective by telling myself that nursing was only a career; it wasn’t my identity. “But, Lord, you led me into nursing and gave me a love for it. It’s my calling, and I feel the loss deeply. Why have you taken it from me?”

  I paid scant attention to the aide’s words as I watched an elderly stroke victim attempting to operate a can opener. Nearby, a middle-aged man recovering from knee surgery drooped in despair. Across the room, a handsome airline pilot practiced walking again, following a severe spinal-cord injury. His cheerfulness puzzled me. I wondered what determined a patient’s response to loss. What spurred some on when others were easily defeated? Was it merely an inborn character trait, like a strong personality or a deep-seated tenacity? Was it faith? Whatever it was, I wanted it myself.

  I’d like to think I fashioned a prayer that touched God’s heart. But in truth, I muddled through a jumble of emotions and came up with nothing but a scrambled plea that meant, “Lord, I need help.” I expected no reply.

  The aide, still valiantly trying to cheer me up, said, “I understand you used to be a nurse.”

  A fresh load of anger welled up inside my chest. Used to be? I felt like asking her what she thought I was now. Before my mind could form a sarcastic response, words came from my mouth. “Yes, I am a nurse.” Somehow I felt different, stronger, but I wasn’t sure why.

  Later, still feeling insulted, I mentally conducted a onesided quarrel with the aide who had reminded me of who I “used to be.” Wait a minute. I’m everything I’ve ever been. I have one less leg, but I still have my brain and my heart. I’m not a has-been! God doesn’t have any has-beens.

  I carried that thought in my head until the day a familiar scripture came to mind. I located it in my Bible concordance, then turned to Acts 17:28 and read aloud. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” Three words stood out from the rest: “live,” “move” and “have.” It didn’t say that we had our being; we have it. My life isn’t in past tense. I still am. I am!

  No sudden or dramatic change occurred, but gradually that passage influenced my attitude. It fanned a tiny ember of faith that lay buried under my negative emotions. Over a period of months, that faith grew to the flame it had once been. I gained strength, and with it a sense of my own potential.

  A year and a half after my surgery, I returned to the hospital where I had worked for eighteen years. Physically unable to resume my previous role, I became the manager of the hospital’s new home-health agency. Though I could work at my own pace, I found that making home visits was painful and difficult. In our rural area, many homes have no sidewalks or handrails at the steep doorsteps. Carrying a heavy bag while walking with a prosthetic leg was not easy, even with a cane. Once inside, I struggled to keep my balance as I bent over low beds to perform sterile procedures. And I loved it.

  Though nothing lessened the joy of being a nurse again, I often doubted whether I could continue this work while we waited for the census to grow enough to hire more staff. But the growth was rapid and steady. Soon I hired other nurses to visit the patients while I managed the office. Once again I was teaching patients, this time by phone. Friendships developed between us, though many of us never met in person. The nurses, aides and therapists formed a great team, and when I retired, the agency was thriving.

  At my retirement party, a doctor and colleague of many years announced, “I’m astonished at Shirley’s accomplishment in this community.” I’m sure he knows, as I do, that God had a hand in making the agency the blessing it is to this day. Isn’t it strange how God uses the things we focus on, rightly or wrongly, to get our attention? In my case, he used my anger and my love of nursing to draw me closer to him. Now, when I hear Neil Diamond sing that song titled, “I Am, I Said,” I smile inside. It was God who brought me from “I Was,” to “I Am.” Who but he could know the value of one little word?

  Shirley McCullough

  One Smile at a Time

  Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.

  Dale Carnegie

  I was working in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit when I learned about Operation Smile, an organization dedicated to repairing cleft lips and palates for children and young adults, both stateside and in the Third World. One of my patients had been brought back from Colombia by a local plastic surgeon. This two-year-old boy had a defect too severe to repair in his home country. “J” became the sweetheart of the unit, and we nursed him through his surgeries and recovery.

  The goals of Operation Smile and the spirit of its team members touched me quite deeply: “saving faces” for children and giving them a new chance in life. I became involved with the local chapter of the organization, and was soon on my way to North Vietnam with thirty-five other medical professionals, including doctors, nurses and anesthesiologists.

  As the first Americans to visit Haiphong (sixty miles south of Hanoi) since the Vietnam War, we were honored by our royal reception. Two of the doctors on our team and several Vietnamese doctors had served during the war as enemies. Now we all worked together for a common goal.

  Once the work began, it was nonstop. We had six surgeries going at the same time. I worked in the recovery room. The obstacles were constant and intense, making me feel in control and out of control all at the same time. Personally, we had to cope with jet lag, lack of sleep, unusual foods and meager accommodations. Professionally, it was more critical. Frequently, we were without running water or power. Unlabeled oxygen tanks created a Russian roulette. The primitive conditions were as challenging as the language barrier. With only two interpreters for the whole group, we became very creative with sign language.

  The team of Vietnamese nurses in the recovery room was great as they took vital signs and tried to grasp our technology. This was a far cry from their usual duties of scrubbing floors and washing toilets. None of them spoke English, but they could comfort the children in their native tongues.

  Having been in the Peace Corps, I took most things in stride. But working twelve- to sixteen-hour days started to catch up with me. With only one more day to go, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to make it. I felt sick and was becoming emotional. I went to the bathroom (if you could call it that), and cried like a baby and prayed for energy. I was sent back to the hotel shortly after that to sleep for a few hours. They called me back that evening to monitor a child in respiratory distress from a traumatic pre-op intubation. Tired and tense, I did not want to be there. Luckily, the anesthesiologist on call with me was experienced with hypnotherapy. He gave me fifteen minutes of his time, and all my fears dissipated. I relaxed into my duties, and the night went smoothly.

  The next morning at the hospital was our last and as we packed our equipment, I felt like a zombie, but a relaxed one. My work was done. I wandered back to the ward and found a flurry of activity. Sutures were being removed, people were taking pictures of the children as parents and children said their grateful farewells. There was so much love in the air, it made my heart swell.

  When I walked in, the parents smiled and pointed to their children. I went from one bed to another, saying good-bye. There were two kids and two parents in each bed; some of them were crying because we were leaving.

  One mother prompted her child to say something to me, helping him where he hesitated. It was obvious that she was teaching her three-year-old some new words. I got the gist of his thankfulness, but Michelle, one of our wonderful interpreters, arrived just in time to deliver his rich message to me. “I am sorry I cannot speak to you in English, but I want to thank you for my smile.”

  I started to cry, and then someone ha
nded me flowers that probably cost them a day’s salary. I cried some more.

  It was a privilege to be a part of an effort that changed the lives and hopes of many families. We had repaired 141 smiles—and our country’s image of loving service.

  Rita Kluny

  Do Your Best and the

  Lord Will Bless

  Let us act on what we have since we have not what we wish.

  Cardinal Newman

  After a year of preparation, Kay was finally on her way. Every year she volunteered to spend her vacation using her professional nursing skills in the mission field. The Trinity Baptist Church in Santa Monica worked for a year to raise funds to send a team of four to Haiti. Joining Kay from California was Dr. Charles Wood, a dentist, and Kathleen Whitney, another nurse. Dr. Miranti, another dentist from New Jersey, would join them to give dental care to hundreds of people who otherwise had no access to care.

  On her way to the airport Kay stopped at the Santa Monica Hospital where she’d been working on the cardiac ward. Kay had been caring for a patient who was very interested in her mission trip and touched by the work she was about to do. The patient was scheduled to go into surgery, and Kay stopped to give him extra encouragement. It was needed. He said, “I’m about to go into surgery and I don’t know whether I’m going to come through this or not. I want you to take this envelope—I’ve put a little money in it. Take it to Haiti. It may be that when you’re there you’ll discover there are some things you need that you hadn’t anticipated, like aspirins or something.”

  Kay objected, “I can’t do that.”

  “I absolutely insist.”

  “That is very thoughtful of you,” Kay replied. She placed the envelope in her purse, assured the patient he would be in her prayers and hurried to the airport. The flight to Haiti was uneventful, but going through customs was a disaster. The group had to bring all their supplies and equipment with them in several large boxes.

  The customs officials confiscated all of Dr. Wood’s expensive portable dental equipment and all the supplies they were carrying in—lidocaine for anesthesia, dressing materials, surgical gloves, inoculation supplies and even baby vitamins. When Dr. Rick Miranti flew in with only one small backpack, the customs officials let him pass without checking it. The four huddled in the airport waiting room, lifting their urgent prayers. His pack included one set of dental equipment and only about fifty ampoules of the anesthetic lidocaine. Since some patients require more than one ampoule, it meant that only a few patients could be helped.

  A missionary came to pick them up and on the way to his home they shared their disappointment. For a year they had planned and prayed and worked so they could bring health and relief from pain to many. Now it seemed their trip would be in vain. The four were so discouraged they considered packing up and returning home. Instead, they decided to do all they could. They would open the clinic. The dentists would take turns using the one set of equipment. They would use the anesthetic as long as it lasted—probably an hour or two—then they would have to close the clinic. In the morning they set up what had to be the world’s smallest dental clinic. A single table sat in the open air, with only a roof sheltering them from the direct sun. A dentist and a nurse worked as a team at each end of the table, while a long line of hopeful patients waited their turns. No one had the heart to turn them away.

  The expert dentists worked quickly. After the nurses prepared the syringe with the anesthetic, the dentist gave the shot, then the necessary procedures. When he finished, he passed the portable equipment to his colleague while the nurse sterilized the single set of equipment for the next patient.

  Hours passed. Patients came, were treated and left. Kay frantically continued loading syringes from the limited supply of ampoules in her box.

  At the end of a long day, the weary team closed their clinic. “We must have treated over two hundred patients today,” Dr. Wood observed. “That’s a record for me.”

  “Thank God we had enough anesthetic,” Kay said.

  “Where did the additional ampoules come from? Who kept replenishing the box?”

  No one.

  The entire team recognized they had been part of a miracle.

  In the New Testament, Christ had compassion on the multitude and had multiplied the loaves and the fishes until the need was met. This day God in his mercy had kept the anesthetic from running out. They prayed together in thanksgiving.

  They had done what they could, and the Lord added the rest.

  Now they needed to decide what to do next. By the grace of God they had made it through one day, but should they presume God would continue to multiply the anesthetic as long as they were there?

  They were sorely limited in the treatment they could offer since so much of what they needed was wrongfully impounded in customs. In addition to the portable dental equipment, they needed the collapsible, lightweight dental chair. The customs officials said they would release the equipment and supplies—for a large sum of money. The team knew the legal customs regulations, and they knew they were not required to pay this exorbitant amount. Dr. Woods appealed to the compassion of the customs officer, explaining how they had come as volunteers to treat people for free. The customs officer would be doing a service to his people by releasing their equipment and supplies.

  His argument fell on deaf ears. After some haggling, one customs official agreed to release all their equipment and supplies for five hundred American dollars. This sum was much less than the amount demanded before, but this was an expense they had not anticipated, and it seemed impossible.

  “An expense that wasn’t anticipated.” The words jogged something in Kay’s memory. She told her group about the visit she had made to the hospital on the way to the airport and the envelope the friend had given for expenses that “hadn’t been anticipated.” “He said it was for aspirins or something we might need,” Kay explained. “It’s probably only ten dollars or so.”

  Kay retrieved the sealed envelope, still in her purse. She opened the envelope and pulled out cash—five hundred dollars.

  Five hundred American dollars! Exactly the amount needed.

  During the next few weeks they ministered with skill and Christian love to hundreds of patients. They took their clinic to school buildings, beaches and remote villages, sometimes hiking to their destination on mountain trails.

  It would have been reward enough for Kay to see the relief from pain and suffering they provided so many. “But what I will never forget,” Kay recalls, “are the two miracles of lidocaine and cash. I learned that day that when you do your best, the Lord will bless.”

  Marilynn Carlson Webber


  Faith evermore looks upward and decrees objects remote; but reason can discover things only near, and sees nothing that is above her.

  Francis Quarles

  I heard his footsteps before I saw him. In his brand-new Christmas slippers, his shuffling feet never left the floor. As I watched him traverse the hall, I had a sudden image of the little engine that could. His gray jogging suit, a recent birthday present, bagged about his tiny frame and a thatch of snow-white hair crowned his head. He looked awfully sleepy and needed a shave—not unusual for 3:00 A.M.

  He approached the nurses’ desk and asked, “What are they gonna do with that pony?”

  Thoughtlessly, I answered, “What pony?”

  He ignored my question and began telling me they should put him down at the far end of the meadow and let him eat the yellowed cornstalks left from this year’s crop.

  I smiled a sad smile and tried to re-orient John as to his whereabouts. Although pointless, I had a small glimmer of hope that I could make a difference, that I could make John see the reality of the nursing home. So I continued to patiently explain to John that he lived here in room 114.

  Finally, I stopped, and as I gazed into his cloudy blue eyes, I suddenly recognized how much better his reality was than mine. He was in a meadow with a new pony. I was trying to place him
within the stark walls of an institution.

  I patted John on the shoulder, “I think that the far end of the meadow would be perfect for the pony.”

  He continued shuffling down the hall, smiling.

  Mary Jane Holman

  Sadie, Sadie, Special Lady

  With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh, I should die.

  Abraham Lincoln

  Sadie was eighty-seven years old and had been in the hospital for two weeks when I met her. Though she was recovering quite nicely from a heart attack, she was also experiencing some dementia. She was always pleasant and smiling and called me “Honey child” when she spoke and told wonderful stories from the past. We spent hours together with her talking and me listening. A master storyteller, she disguised her voice to mimic the characters she so lovingly recalled. Her explicit facial expressions always added flavor to her tales.

  Sadie’s dementia wasn’t apparent until she’d ask questions about the recent past or couldn’t find her way back to bed from the restroom. On a few occasions, she attempted to crawl into bed with one of her four roommates, causing uproar and much confusion. Sadie became sullen and quiet following these episodes, and I often wondered what she was thinking.

  One morning I started my rounds as usual and noticed Sadie was very sad. She seemed to want to tell me something, but had difficulty finding the right words. After a few minutes I ascertained that she had had an “accident” during the night and needed a good bath and a manicure. I spent much of my morning soaking her hands in warm, sudsy water. To ease her embarrassment, I suggested she imagine she was spending the day being pampered at the beauty shop. We laughed together and played along until it came time to do her peri-care. As I soaked her bottom, she became very quiet again and her eyes grew as wide as saucers. I asked if I was making her uncomfortable in any way. She looked up at me and very innocently said, “Honey child, they’ve never done this to me at my beauty shop before!”

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