Chicken soup for the nur.., p.6
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       Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul, p.6

           Jack Canfield
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  T. S. Eliot

  I glanced at the clock on the musty green hospital wall. Almost midnight. Had it really been only twenty-one hours since the ringing phone startled me from sleep, spinning my life out of control? Panicked, I had grabbed the receiver, fearing something had happened to my mother. But it was her voice I heard on the other end. Rondi, my younger sister . . . brain aneurysm . . . coma . . . surgery . . . could I fly to New York right away?

  Before I knew it, I was pacing in an intensive care unit waiting room. The walls, supposedly painted to look soft and welcoming, instead felt cold and threatening. Random chairs sat scattered, while others formed small circles of comfort for families. This room was like no place else on earth. Time stood still here. I walked to the window and gazed from the eighth floor at the people below. I wanted to scream, “How dare you have the audacity to carry on normal lives! Don’t you have any idea what’s happening up here?”

  Yes, my world had definitely stopped.

  On one side of the waiting room, where we’d “made camp,” friends and relatives congregated to pray, help, cry, ask “why” and bring food. It felt like we should be gathering for a party, not pleading for Rondi to make it through the night.

  Family members were allowed in her room only one or two at a time. We “took shifts” around the clock so she’d never be alone. I walked in, startled by the incongruity of seeing Rondi, peacefully “asleep,” quiet, no movement amidst the chaotic activity around her. I counted the rhythmic sounds from monitors and machines—the eerie whoosh of the ventilator—and the steady beep-beeps proving she was still alive.

  Nurses, dressed in blue, bustled around, checking lines, gauges and tubing, as if Rondi were the only patient in the whole hospital. I retreated to the background, hesitant to sit in a chair that would be in the way or ask bothersome questions. Then I noticed. All these nurses’ faces reflected knowledge, determination and purpose, yet in their eyes I saw softness and patience. I marveled at the realization that Rondi’s very life rested in the hands of these souls and God.

  I had the midnight to 4:00 A.M. shift. It was 1:56 A.M. Things in the room became quieter as only one nurse cared for Rondi. Through misty eyes I read her name: Linda Plano. The flurry calmed as she dimmed the lights, and the machines echoed their discordant beats. Now, I had time to think. And feel—helpless—with no control. I could do nothing to make my sister better. With tubes and wires all over her, I didn’t even know where it was safe to touch her. And how I yearned to touch her, so she’d know I was there, wanting to help. I would do anything, anything, but I had no idea what that should be. If all the medicine, machines and beeping couldn’t save her, then what on earth could I do? The frustration welled up inside me as the tears finally let go. I felt so alone.

  I gleaned a bit of comfort as I watched the nurse check Rondi’s monitor connections with the gentlest touch. Sure, she was performing the tasks necessary to save a life, but there was more. She smiled at Rondi while she worked and talked softly to her even though she was in a coma. How I wished I could connect with Rondi in such an intimate way. Suddenly, I noticed the nurse was talking to me, too. Carefully lifting sections of Rondi’s hair, she commented on how sad it was that bed rest caused it to become so mercilessly matted.

  Then, out of the blue she looked at me. “Do you have a brush?” Numbly, I retrieved one from my purse. She motioned me to the head of the bed and gently showed me how to brush out small sections of Rondi’s hair and lay them on the pillow without disturbing any tubes or wires. My little sister’s hair felt so light in my hand as I touched her for the first time. I was helping—actually doing something to care for her. The nurse dimmed the lights and quietly slipped out of the room, but not before she smiled again, this time at me.

  I felt like Rondi and I were the only two people in the world during the hour I brushed her hair. That precious time meant more to me than any other hour we had ever spent together. With the lights lowered, I talked to her, hoping in an odd way that she would open her eyes and tell me she was going to be fine. But I knew she couldn’t do that. If only I could know she was safe and not feeling any pain. As I brushed, I lamented about where people “went” during comas.

  As if to answer my questions, a new sound emerged past the hospital noises. Music. It must have been playing in the background all the time, but I hadn’t heard it. I caught some of the words, “ . . . you’re in the arms of the angels . . . find some comfort there. . . . ”

  In the arms of the angels—yes! I knew at that moment where Rondi was. She was safe, not in pain, being cared for by angels until it was time for her to return to us here in this room.

  It’s hard to describe the power and beauty of the moment Rondi’s nurse insightfully created for us that night. Did she know? After all, she ministers to patients every day, nonstop, during her shifts. It’s her job, and this could be just an everyday activity for her, but it meant the world to me. I’m in awe to think that if only one person a week is the recipient of her gift, imagine how many lives she has changed in her twenty-plus years “on the job.”

  That night, at 1:56 A.M., there was a great deal of healing needing to take place in that room. This wise, wonderful nurse saw that and nurtured it. Rondi was in the arms of more than one angel that night. We both were.

  Elaine Gray Dumler

  The Greatest of These

  Is Love

  Though I articulate the contemporary jargon of nursing,

  If I have not understanding that touches the heartbeat of my patients,

  I only generate chatter.

  Though I boast of diplomas, awards and publications, and my skills reflect the wonderment of technology,

  If I have not mastered the gift of compassion,

  My endeavors are hollow.

  Though I impress my colleagues with my intellectual prowess and lofty idealism,

  If I offer not the instrument of self,

  I serve my patients with mere activity.

  Though I devote my very life to the profession of nursing and forfeit personal desires,

  If I become cynical, detached and fatigued to the point of indifference,

  My energy is expended in futility.

  Though I integrate the art and science of nursing, translate research into clinical practice, and achieve professional notoriety,

  If I do not notice wounded hearts and broken dreams,

  My mission is not fulfilled.

  I may be competent, dependable, efficient, but if I fail to communicate the language of love,

  I practice nursing in vain.

  Faith, hope and love—these are all craving of the human spirit—but

  The greatest of these is love.

  Roberta L. Messner

  Submitted by Lisa Riha Strazzullo

  You Held My Hand

  Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it enkindles the great.

  Roger de Bussy-Rabutin

  Excruciating, searing pain gripped his stomach and woke Nick from an uneasy sleep. He staggered from underneath his mosquito net, felt for his sandals and, bent double, hurried to the toilets behind the barrack room. He spent the rest of the night there, unable to move, and when the first of the early risers came into the toilet block, he called for help. Two of his friends summoned an ambulance that carried Nick to the British Military Hospital on the outskirts of Poona in India.

  The bliss of clean sheets, ceiling fans and quietude was something Nick had not enjoyed for many months. As a trooper in an armoured regiment, he’d known only coarse blankets and barracks full of soldiers.

  “So, Soldier, how are you feeling now?’’ A cool hand took his wrist, and he saw a nurse at his bedside. No ordinary nurse but an army nurse, wearing a crisp white uniform with a belt and a badge carrying the insignia of the QAMNS.

  “Not good, Miss,” he replied.

  “Sister to you. Sister Nichols,” she said with a smile. “Doctor will be along to see you soon. We’ll kn
ow then what to do with you.”

  About an hour later, an RAMC officer came swinging a stethoscope. He asked a few questions, kneaded Nick’s stomach and said, “Dysentery. We’ll do a test or two and find out which one. Sister, give him plenty of fluids and a chicken diet.”

  “Right, Sir,” she said, as she straightened the bed.

  Within a few days, Nick was feeling better. It was the bacillary dysentery, not the dreaded amoebic, and the medicine dispensed four times a day by Sister Nichols soon eased his discomfort. While he sat on the verandah, shaded from the sun, he watched Sister Nichols, always busy, moving briskly about the ward in her starched uniform. She never failed to stop for a word of encouragement or reassurance to her patients.

  “Where are you from, Sister?” asked Nick one day.

  “Aldershot,” she said with a smile. “We all come from Aldershot.”

  “No,” laughed Nick. “Come on, where’s home?”

  “Not that it’s any of your business,” she replied, “but Lincolnshire, near Caistor.”

  “I’m from Spalding. Country cousins almost, aren’t we?”

  Sister Nichols smiled and moved on to the next bed.

  Nick looked out for her each morning as she busied herself around the ward. She was good to look at: dark-haired beneath her cap, deep brown eyes that crinkled with a ready smile and a neat figure.

  There was a radio mounted on the wall of the ward. The reception was not good, but a tune came on most days, a catchy melody Nick had not heard before, about a whistling fisherman.

  “What’s that tune, Sister?” he finally asked one day.

  “It’s ‘Pedro, the Fisherman.’ Comes from The Lisbon Story. I saw it in London just before I came out here. Lovely, isn’t it?” She smiled that smile again. “Now, Soldier, I’ve news for you: You’ll be discharged tomorrow, back to your unit.”

  Nick was saddened by this. He knew it was silly but, like so many, he had fallen in love with his nurse. Silly indeed, for she was an officer and he was a trooper. The two could never meet in the strict world of the army. So the next day he packed his kit, held her hand, perhaps a little too tightly, as he said good-bye and went back to the war.

  Three years later, Captain Nick Bartlett had been promoted rapidly after fighting in the brutal war in Burma. Now he was stationed in a little coastal town in Malaya, one that had not suffered under Japanese rule. The cafés and shops were open and full of the pre-war goods that had been hoarded by canny Chinese in anticipation of the Japanese defeat. A large dance hall was full every night of the week. A Filipino band played the hit tunes of the war years and slender Chinese girls in cheongsams were employed as dancers. Nick’s regiment was based outside the town, but most nights he drove in, parked his jeep, had a meal in the Café 7, then looked in at the New World for a dance or two with the girls.

  One night as he sat at the bar, a crowd of people came in. He did not believe what he saw—a dark-haired girl with deep brown eyes that crinkled as she smiled. Gone was the white uniform; jungle green fatigues had replaced it, but those could not disguise the slim figure of Sister Nichols.

  Nick headed across the room to the bandleader he’d come to know quite well. “Chan, do you know ‘Pedro the Fisherman’? It goes like this,” and he whistled a few bars.

  “Of course,” smiled Chan. “You want us to play it for you?”

  Nick smiled his assent and waited for the music to start.

  “Pedro, the fisherman, was always whistling,” sang the Chinese vocalist as Nick walked across the floor.

  “May I have this dance?” he asked.

  Sister Nichols looked at her escort, a rather paunchy major in the RAMC, who nodded somewhat reluctantly.

  Nick took her hand and led her onto the floor. “Remember me?” he asked. She looked at him quizzically. “Should I?”

  “Well,” he replied, “you held my hand.”

  She smiled at this, that same smile that had captivated him all those years before.

  “You and a hundred others,’’ she said.

  “Poona, 1943 and ‘Pedro the Fisherman.’”

  “Oh, no!” she said.

  “Oh, yes,” said Nick. “What about dinner tomorrow night?”

  Sister Nichols, or Jane as he soon learned, was with a Field Ambulance Unit only a few miles away. When Jane told the paunchy major she’d be leaving with Nick, he looked somewhat disgruntled. “He’s rather sweet,” Jane explained to Nick, “more a father figure than anything else.”

  From that time on, Nick and Jane were inseparable. They had years of experiences to share. The warm, starry nights were never long enough for them. Too soon, Nick was due for repatriation.

  As palm fronds rustled above the beach on their final night, he asked, “Marry me?”

  “Of course,” she beamed. “As soon as we can.”

  “Aldershot?” he laughed.

  “No,” she said, “Lincoln Cathedral.”

  So it was. And a year later, Jane lay in a hospital bed.

  “Position’s reversed,” teased Nick. “Remember Poona?”

  “Forever,” said Jane, as she held his hand and looked at the tiny baby beside her.

  F. A. Thompson

  Love in Its Purest Form

  Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength; loving someone deeply gives you courage.


  I looked up at the clock with tired eyes. Six A.M., one more hour ’til the shift is over, I whispered to myself. Then there he was, strolling in, head up high, as he walked toward the nursing station. The other nurses turned their heads and smiled as they recognized that old familiar face.

  “You’re always on time,” I commented. He smiled and asked, “Are we ready?”

  I nodded my head in reply, and we proceeded to Mrs. Walter’s room. “Did you premedicate her for pain already?” he asked.

  “Yes, sir,” I replied. We knocked at Mrs. Walter’s door to let her know we were coming in to begin the procedure. She was bedridden, barely able to move herself. I sighed as I looked at her swollen legs, ulcerated, from ankles to thighs. The oozing, foul-smelling drainage from her wounds permeated the room. Nevertheless, I smiled. I saw the joy in her eyes as she saw him enter the room with me.

  “Just let us know if you feel any pain, so we can be more gentle,” he told Mrs. Walter.

  “Okay,” she sighed.

  We began the dreaded dressing change. He held her feet off the pillows, so I could undo the old dressings wrapped from her ankles to her thighs. He laid out all the sterile dressings, scissors and tape on the bedside tray in a very organized manner, just as he did yesterday. He was a master at this procedure. He handed me the spray bottle, and I sprayed her wounds to clean them.

  “Are you okay?” he asked Mrs. Walter.

  She just nodded and bit her lips in pain.

  “Hang in there, we’ll be done soon,” he reassured her.

  We began with her right leg. It was a difficult task standing there seeing the worst of all wounds. The stench forced me to hold my breath. And yet he stood there, right beside her, brave and strong, keeping his composure.

  “Here, let me help you with that,” he said as I struggled to reach over her upper thigh.

  Ten minutes had passed and we proceeded with her left leg. It seemed like forever until we were finished. Thank goodness, I whispered to myself. I looked up at the clock and it was 6:30 A.M. Was it only thirty minutes?

  “Thank you, Nurse,” Mrs. Walter sighed in relief. She then turned her head to look up at him and whispered, “Thanks a lot, Honey. You know you really didn’t have to come early today to be here, but I’m glad you did.”

  And it was my turn to thank him, just as I did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. “Thanks for your help, Mr. Walter.”

  He didn’t say a word. He just smiled at Mrs. Walter with reassuring eyes and reached out for her hand. I looked at his eyes and saw the meaning of family and true love. I left Mrs. Walter alone wit
h her husband and slowly walked away in silence, overwhelmed to witness love in its purest form.

  Maryjo Relampagos Pulmano

  A Single Act of Love

  The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.

  Mother Teresa

  His brief but tormented young life was punctuated by recurring visits to hospital emergency rooms for treatment of unexplained, questionable injuries too numerous to count. Despite the unsettled conditions of his family, this small boy always had a smile for everyone.

  Only God knows what horrors he was made to endure.

  The responsible adults who were supposed to be caring for him and providing love couldn’t control their own anger, impulses and frustrations. The family, friends and social system that was intended to protect this young lad failed him miserably. He shouldn’t have been allowed to slip through the cracks, but somehow, in this imperfect world, he did.

  On his last hospital admission, this battered and wounded youngster received exceptional care and experienced perhaps some of the only loving and caring moments of comfort and safety he would know in his abbreviated life.

  One evening, the nurse who was taking care of this broken four-year-old boy climbed into his bed, lay down next to him and cuddled him close to her heart. She gently stroked his forehead and sang soft lullabies in his ear until he fell asleep. That night he closed his tiny eyes for the last time.

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