Chicken soup for the nur.., p.4
Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul, p.4Jack Canfield
With my hands on his shoulders, I leaned over the side rail, twelve inches from his face. In my Midwestern dialect, I articulated the Spanish words in a desperate cry, “Beso mi, Senor Mendoza, beso mi!”
To this day, I am not sure what startled me more: the chorus of laughter of my colleagues or Mr. Mendoza, eyes wide open, shooting up in bed! Dazed, I turned to question my instructor, Art, who was buckled over in laughter. In between breaths, he provided me the English translation: “Kiss me, Mr. Mendoza, kiss me!”
The Night Al Heel Broke Loose
The ability to laugh at life is right at the top with love and communication, in the hierarchy of our needs. Humor has much to do with pain; it exaggerates the anxieties and absurdities we feel, so that we gain distance and through laughter, relief.
In a certain northern city, in a certain regional hospital, a story is still whispered about the “Legend of Wanda May.” It has grown some over the years, but as one of the few witnesses to the entire chain of events, I will try to stick to the facts.
Wanda, a rookie nurse, was a mighty mite of sorts. Standing four feet, eleven inches, she couldn’t have weighed more than ninety pounds, yet every inch of her screamed spitfire! With her green eyes and shiny black hair, Wanda was a looker. Even her cap, which conjured visions of the flying nun, and her oversized scrub suit added to her allure.
Our fifteen-bed ICU ran like organized chaos. With whirring ventilators, beeping monitors, blaring code sirens, ringing phones, glaring lights and chatting nurses, sensory overload was a common problem for our patients. A unique phenomenon known as ICU psychosis afflicts about 10 percent of those treated in this environment. Without warning, a sweet and kindly grandmother could morph into a Linda Blair clone right before your eyes. With proper medication, the condition usually lasts only twenty-four hours. Still, the poor patients are often mortified by their reported behaviors.
On the night in question, the unit was unusually quiet. With only three patients, I stayed at the desk to read the cardiac monitors while Phyllis, a jolly seasoned nurse, looked after two patients. This left Wanda to care for Alan Heel. Al looked much older than his twenty-seven years; he’d lived a hard life. Kidney disease and his penchant for alcohol proved a difficult combination. His heart strained to pump the extra fluids his body couldn’t eliminate. Weekly dialysis is a hard lot in life. Long deserted by family, you could almost understand the root of Al’s addiction. He was a frequent patient in our unit, and we all knew it would be a miracle if Al saw thirty. This huge grinning fellow with an unruly shock of black hair loved the attention he received in the unit. And he was never happier than when Wanda was his nurse. He swore she looked exactly like his favorite stripper, and we teased and regaled him with “Hey Big Spender” whenever Wanda was at his bedside. In spite of all of his shortcomings, Al was easy to like.
By midnight on this particular night, the patients were settled and the checks were done. Sitting at the desk, Wanda entertained us with the latest chapter of her ill-fated romantic life. Suddenly, multiple monitor alarms screamed. In the time it took to look up, there was Al, looming over us, huge and naked—except for the monitor leads flapping from his chest. We could have taken his pulse by watching the blood spurting from his thigh where he’d yanked the arterial line. If not for the blood, the absurdity of Al dragging his urine bag might have been comical—but there was nothing funny in his eyes.
Wanda and Phyllis tried to cajole him back to his room. Grabbing the phone, I paged security and then put in a call to his doctor. The next few moments unfolded like a scene from the Keystone Kops!
Al ran, followed by Wanda, Phyllis, two seventy-year-old security guards and several nurses from the step-down unit. He charged from room to room, fleeing a demon only he could see. Patients screamed, guards yelled, staff raced in all directions. The arrival of three police officers and his doctor only added to the chaos. Cornering him in the hallway, they nearly subdued him, but the power of his psychosis proved too great.
When he darted into the four-bed ward in the adjoining step-down unit, panic reigned. The screams of the four elderly female occupants almost drowned out the alarms from their collective heart monitors.
Jumping on top of the nearest bed, Al took a hostage. Now debate often ensues about the weapon Al used. I hear tell now that it was a butcher knife, but to the best of my recollection it was a letter opener he picked up from the patient’s tray table. Flipping the poor woman so she was perched on top of his naked body, Al held the letter opener to her neck. The frantic look in his eyes gave us all cause to believe he would use it. Backing off as he demanded, we all tried to think of a way of getting a shot of Valium into him. In this truly desperate, life-threatening situation, the legend of Wanda May was born.
Holding us at arm’s length, Wanda stepped forward. Slack-jawed, we watched as she flipped off her cap, undid her braid and fluffed her long, luxurious hair. In a sultry voice, she belted the song, “The minute you walked in the joint. . . .” With her eyes focused on Al’s, she pulled her scrub shirt over her head and sent it sailing across the room. His wild eyes softened as she shimmied closer. It was plain to see that the occupant with the “knife” to her throat didn’t know which of these evils was greater. In two more seductive moves, Wanda was down to her skivvies. With a crooked finger, she beckoned Al to follow her. As if in a trance, he put down his weapon and rose from the bed. In utter silence, the assembled onlookers parted and Wanda, clad only in bra and panties, walked through the center, with a docile Al directly behind. She continued humming the strains of “Big Spender” all the way back to the unit. Patting Al’s bed, she prompted him to lie down. Now I was frightened for Wanda’s safety. But instead of venting aggression or male energy, Al began to cry. With his head nestling on her chest, Wanda held him and stroked his hair while the doctor and I started an IV and a flurry of drugs. In moments, an exhausted Al drifted off to sleep. Extricating herself from his grasp, Wanda casually asked, “Could someone get my clothes?”
She may have been small of stature, but Wanda May will forever remain a giant to those who continue to whisper her legend.
The years teach much which the days never knew.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was in my second year of nurse’s training at Children’s Hospital when I fell in love with Jimmy. His eyes were the purple of a full-moon sky. His golden hair tossed rings of curls onto strawberry blush cheeks. He looked like a cherub in the stained-glass cathedral windows. But he had the wail of a lonely, frightened, orphaned baby, which he was.
Jimmy was in the communicable diseases wing, isolated with measles and pneumonia. He had to be enclosed in his oxygen-tent–covered crib most of the time. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was crying to get out. But he always stopped crying when I entered his room because he knew I would cuddle, rock and sing to him. The Children’s Orphanage had been his only home most of his fifteen months of life. I knew he was well tended there, but no institution care can replace a mother’s love.
As I hummed a lullaby, I fantasized. “Jimmy, I promise you that as soon as I finish nursing school, I will find a way to become your full-time mommy. You will be my special little angel.”
My mind eagerly formed wedding plans for right after graduation. The man I married would just have to love this beautiful baby as much as I did.
The door opened a crack. My supervisor hissed, “Miss White! Have you completed all of your work and finished charting?”
“Almost, Miss Stickleby.”
“It’s nearly time to go off duty. Put the baby down now. Check on your other patients, and then go help Miss Nelson. I believe she had an extra patient today.” The door closed before I could answer. Suzie Nelson did not have an extra patient. I did. Suzie was assigned as Jimmy’s nurse, but I asked to have him added to my patient load. I wanted the extra time with him since I’d be on
Deliberately I dawdled, massaging his thin little legs, playing peek-a-boo with his yellow ducky blanket, urging gurgly giggles between his raspy breaths. He was more responsive and playful than I’d seen him before, and his grasp was stronger. A good sign of improving condition.
A loud tap rattled the ward window. Stickleby.
Quickly, I gave Jimmy his favorite squeaky bear and an extra farewell backrub. As his eyelids closed over his pansy eyes, I tucked the oxygen tent around his crib and whispered good-bye.
Back at the nurse’s station, Miss Stickleby glared as I signed off Jimmy’s chart. Who was she anyway? I wondered. We students couldn’t fault her as a teacher and supervisor. She saw to it that we were all as conscientious in our duties as she was. But although the hospital policy encouraged staff and students to hold, play with, read and talk to all the children in our care, we never saw her cooing over a baby or reading to a toddler. By the end of the shift, our pink student uniforms were always rumpled and damp. Miss Stickleby’s looked as starched and clean as at the start of the day. Unlike my netted unruly locks, no wisps of auburn hair escaped from under her square pillbox nurse cap. She was such a proper, capable nurse. Why did she hide her heart?
I waved good-bye to Jimmy’s room as I hurried off duty, excited to have a holiday of mountain fun. But at the same time, I was eager to return to my bright-eyed, nearly recovered Jimmy.
While on vacation, I bought several silly, washable toys for “my little guy.” He had only the disposable ones given by the local children’s societies. Before he went back to the orphanage, everything would be burned, of course, to prevent cross-contamination.
Holiday over, I rushed back to work and eagerly peeked through Jimmy’s window on my way to the ward station. His crib was clean and empty.
“Where did you move Jimmy?” I asked the night nurse.
“Oh, he died Saturday night. Didn’t you know?” Such a casual answer.
My body turned to clabbered milk. I fell into the chair, crushing the toy bag.
“I’m sorry, Joy. He was a special little kid.” She released a long, exhausted sigh. “Saturday was a bad night.”
Beyond consolation, I stumbled into the nurse’s lounge where I could release a great wash of tears.
“Miss White!” It was Stickleby’s clipped, stern voice. “Time for report. Dry your eyes and get on duty. Now, please.”
All of the emotion I felt for Jimmy poured out like boiling oil over this cold, unfeeling woman.
“How can you be so uncaring?” I yelled. “It’s bad enough that Jimmy’s beautiful little life is snuffed out, but he didn’t even have a mama to comfort him or to care that he died. And you? Do you care about him or any other little life? No! Just ‘Miss White, go to work. Pretend everything is the same.’ Well, it isn’t the same. I care! I loved that little boy!”
Tears spattered down the front of my uniform.
A handkerchief dropped onto my wet lap. I felt a soft touch on my shoulder. Miss Stickleby stood at my side, teardrops softening her stiff uniform.
“Miss White—Joy,” her voice was a husky whisper. “There are far too many Jimmys in our profession. They can wreck our hearts if we let them. You and I are jelly hearts. We will always be searching for ways to cope. One thing I know for sure is that we must give equal attention to each child. To single out one child can destroy us and can limit our ability to be an effective nurse.”
She blotted her face. “It may give you comfort to know that Jimmy did not die alone. Death took him softly from my arms.”
We sat together for a brief time, the seasoned jelly-hearted teacher and the green jelly-hearted student, crying.
Then we put on our fresh nurse faces and went out to love and care for all the little children in our charges.
A sweet new blossom of humanity, fresh-fallen from God’s own home, to flower on earth.
I was working as a pharmacist at the hospital in 1969 when Billy was born with Down’s syndrome. His unwed mother intended all along to put the baby up for adoption. When she was told that the child had been born with “problems,” she didn’t even want to see him. She left the hospital during the night, abandoning the baby.
The law stated that in such cases Children’s Services must be contacted. If no immediate placement was available, the baby would be transferred to a municipal hospital to wait for foster care or adoption. Armed with this information, the nurses from the maternity floor and nursery went to the director of nursing.
“Why can’t we keep Billy here until he can be placed?”
The director said, “You know he can’t stay here. It’s against the rules of the Board of Health. We’re not certified to have a boarder baby. We simply can’t keep him here; there is nothing I can do about it.”
“You know he won’t be placed easily,” they persisted. “It’s hard enough to place a baby with no problems, much less a baby like Billy. Please, don’t call Children’s Services yet. Speak to the administrator first, or better still, let him come up and see the baby. Tell him we will take care of Billy and all the expenses. Just let us keep him up in maternity.”
By this time, every employee of the hospital had seen Billy and was aware of the situation. And everybody had fallen in love with him. The administrator, a very religious man, was sympathetic to the pleas of the nursing staff and soon acquiesced.
The problem now was where to keep Billy. He couldn’t stay in the nursery because he might subject the other newborns to germs. He couldn’t be housed in the pediatric ward because the sick children would expose Billy to their infections. It was decided he would stay on the maternity floor.
One of the three isolation nurseries was commandeered as Billy’s private quarters. Through the viewing window Billy could see out, and visitors and nursing staff could see in. Initially he had only a crib, but the employees bought him clothes, a playpen, high chair, toys, a stroller and anything else he needed. The entire hospital staff became his family, constantly showering Billy with affection and attention during breaks, lunchtimes and days off. They took turns taking him outside for walks.
All the maternity and nursery staff mothered him, but no one more than Miss N, who, although she was an excellent nurse, had never shown any maternal instincts. In fact, she was the prototype of a tough army sergeant. Actually, she’d been a captain when she served as an army nurse. Billy’s face lit up whenever she approached him. Her coworkers had never seen Miss N even smile before, so they were astounded to see her cooing and cuddling Billy. He truly melted her heart, and she cared for him zealously. She adored Billy and desperately wanted to adopt him. Unfortunately, during the sixties, unmarried women were not considered good candidates as adoptive mothers. Knowing it was hopeless, Miss N didn’t even try. But Mrs. B, one of the newborn nurses who loved him specially, applied to adopt him.
Meanwhile, Billy was a happy, gurgling boy thriving as a boarder baby in this nurturing, albeit conspiratorial environment. Every member on the staff was in on the secret. No one even mentioned Billy’s name outside the hospital corridors.
One day, the Board of Health came to do an impromptu routine inspection of the hospital. Word of the inspectors’ arrival traveled quickly to the maternity ward. The administrator led the inspection team to the opposite end of the facility where each department head delayed the inspectors as much as possible. Billy was spirited away from the maternity ward and taken to the apartment of one of the nurses across the street. Nurses and other staff members emptied his room, moved the furniture to the basement, covered his window with examining-table paper and locked the door.
The inspector arrived on maternity and inquired about that room. The head nurse explained it was one of the isolation nurseries being remodeled. The hospital passed the inspection, the inspectors left, the room was refurbished, and Billy returned to his home.
When Billy w
Staff members sent gifts and had parties for Billy on his birthdays and holidays. Mrs. B and Miss N kept us informed of Billy’s progress with pictures and stories.
And brought him often to visit his family in his “first” home.
What Day Is Today?
Sid taught the staff and patients alike that there’s room for life and laughter in a hospice. This wonderful man tried hard to cope with a paralysis that left him highly dependent on his family and the nurses. Though this irritated him immensely, he was a born actor with a wonderful sense of theater. Sid knew exactly how to act out his sense of injustice in the face of his terminal illness. Often he played to the gallery—in this case, the three other patients who shared the same room. His roommates tolerated Sid, although “here-he-goes-again” was a much-used refrain.
But Sid was also very religious. One morning, I was giving out the medication in his room when he hoisted himself onto his elbows, looked soulfully across the room and muttered weakly (but loud enough for all to hear), “What day is it today?”
I answered truthfully, “Palm Sunday.”
Staring up at the ceiling, Sid blurted dramatically, “Then today is a good day to die.” With this he fell back on the bed in such a dramatic fashion, I wondered if he would actually do it then and there! But a few seconds later, he popped opened his eyes, looked at me and sighed.
Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul by Jack Canfield / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes