Tuesday, April 7, 2009
A Noble Profession
As far back as I can remember I have wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to be the one who would make everyone feel better and I frequently practiced on my brothers. The boys were my patients and, with a paper nurse's cap and a toy stethoscope, I would pretend to listen to their hearts and mend all their imaginary injuries. They would join me in my make-believe and played right along in my fantasy. Don, the oldest brother, would always tell my mother what a good nurse I was.
I waited until both of my children were in school before I went back to school myself. It was difficult balancing home, school, church, and family. There were times when I thought I would buckle under the weight of such responsibility but I made it through thanks to my dear mother and her care of me and my children. During nursing school I learned a lot about how precious life can be and how every day is a priviledge--how life is a priviledge, and how every breath we take is a blessing.
In March of 1988, I graduated from nursing school. Unfortunately, Don had passed away a few years before and did not get to see me get my diploma. Still, I felt he was watching me from Heaven's front row and I could picture him telling the angelic host, "She's such a good nurse.". The other three boys all congratulated me with hugs and smiles. Daddy grabbed me as I came off the platform and said, "I'm so proud of you.". Mother looked at me with tears in her eyes and just hugged me tight--her embrace saying the words she could not speak.
I went to work in a local hospital on a general medical-surgical floor. Two years later I moved to a position in the intensive care unit. I have been in that particular branch of nursing ever since. I take care of patients who have various types of open-heart surgery---it remains my passion.
During my 19 years of working in the critical care setting I have met many patients and their families. I have seen people at their worst and their best. I have helped many recover to wellness and have held the hands of many who have died. Not one time, though, have I ever felt I have not made a difference. Nursing is the only profession I know of that will allow me the knowledge that, every time I swipe my badge at the end of a shift, I have made a difference.
Though I have cared for many patients, there are two that stand out to me the most, both of whom left an impact on my life and my nursing career. The first was a gentleman I cared for as a "baby" nurse. I had been a nurse about six months when I met Mr. Simes. Tall, large in stature, and full of the knowledge of God, Mr. Simes and I hit it off instantly. He had had gallbladder surgery and his recovery was difficult. As I walked him in the hall and assisted him in his room, he talked about the scriptures nonstop. He told me about his faith and how important God was to him. He heard me handle a difficult situation one evening and later told me how proud he was of the way I conducted myself. He didn't miss a thing that went on around him. Later that week, I went in at about 10:45 to say goodnight (I worked evening shift at that time). He reached out and shook my hand and said, "If I don't see you again down here, I will see you up there.". Thirty minutes after I left the hospital, Mr. Simes went into full cardiac arrest and died. It was several weeks before I could bring myself to care for other patients occupying that room. Mr. Simes had so touched my heart.
The second patient I cared for was Jim. Jim was a cancer patient. He was weak from the chemo and knew he was terminally ill. Fluid had collected around his heart and he had just had surgery to drain the fluid. As I walked into his room and introduced myself he looked up at me and said, "Do you believe in the infilling of the Holy Spirit?". That stopped me in my tracks. I knew that how I answered this would be one of the most important responses I would ever make to a patient. I told him I most certainly did believe in, and had received, the infilling of God's spirit. He began to tell me how he had sought the Lord regarding this but still remained uncertain. He then said something that brought tears to my eyes. With a weariness about him and a resignation of life he said, "I know my condition is terminal. I know I'm going to die. I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to do it badly. I don't want my family to remember me suffering in the end.". I could not keep the tears from falling. I sat down on a footstool so I could look up into that precious face and said, "Oh, Jim. Your family will not be interested in remembering how you died. They will remember how you've lived most of all. They will cherish the memory of your faith and trust in God as you passed from this life into the next.". He lifted his head and looked me eye-to-eye. I saw the tears fall even as a smile came to his face---one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. He reached out and took my hands in his and said, "I so needed to hear that. Now I am at peace.". Jim died just a few days after that conversation. His family was present and, within minutes of his passing, was recalling his strength, his courage, and his peace. They were, indeed, remembering how he had lived.
Oh, dear friends, you don't have to be a nurse to leave your mark upon the lives of others. We don't need degrees and accolades to leave a word of kindness and encouragement. I happen to be in a profession I love and one that affords me the honor of touching lives on a daily basis. Once called the "noble" profession, nursing reaches into the lives of people and affects those lives with healing, grace, and dignity. We all, however, have the opportunity to touch a life with the power of God. If we are careful to notice, God sends all of us people to touch with the message of hope and healing. In this way, we all make a difference.
I have learned so much from those under my care. My life is rich with memories of life and death, failure and success, courage and despair. My life has been blessed by the opportunity to be the extended hands of Christ to so many. I have given but I have also received--oh, how I have received.