written by Gloria Herms, contributing writer.
As a staff nurse at a local hospital, I must admit I was doing some pouting about having to work on Easter. I had plans for the weekend to celebrate my birthday as well as the holiday with friends and family. Later in the week when I had some time for reflection and prayer, I realized the blessing of it all. I was given a gift on Easter Sunday by three individuals who have nothing to give and need much. I will tell you about each.
The first, a woman of 60, I will call Betty (I have changed the names in my telling). Betty is of simple mind, yet of blunt and profound speech as she demands your time and ears. She talks of a life born into abuse, neglect and hard work. She lacks fancy words but gets straight to the point as she tells of hard times and of those dear to her all in one sentence, maintaining the same inflection of seriousness.
Betty came into our care in a dire, neglected state; found in her apartment covered in stool and lice infested, severely anemic and malnourished; she went straight to the ICU for several units of blood. After a time of care and cleaning up, delousing, and feeding – she is now in stable condition and ‘ready’ to go home. But where is a good, safe environment for her, one of simple mind and minimal means? Of course the social worker has a case for her and the best possible plan will be made, but my heart was heavy for her that Easter Sunday as I know when it comes to the court and competency cases, its slow and drawn out. I pray for her and I am blessed by her.
Betty will likely celebrate her birthday in the hospital with us. She and I share a late April birthday and she wishes me a happy one as I leave her room for the day. Her usual cynical words are softened by the sentiment she extends. A typical remark from her, that I can always count on as I say “I’ll be back”, is “Thanks for the warning”. Her one-toothed grin and shaved head-I can’t help but like Betty.
The next individual I will tell you about is a man I will describe as yellow. He wears a paper suit, the kind they put on you in the ER. He’s had it on for 3 days. His long matted hair is in a knotted pony tail. His yellow sclera (whites of the eyes), and swollen belly complete the look of late liver failure. I’ll call him Leonard. Leonard likes to drink alcohol. He thinks he just has a virus, and he’ll get better soon. This is more than a case of denial- Leonard has some mental disorder as well. He is pacing the hall today- a lot. He complains of hemorrhoids, he continues to talk about the discomfort of this, and then worries incessantly about how he will be in too much discomfort to walk to 15th street in the next city over; because he believes he is being discharged today.
I repeatedly assure him that he likely will not be discharged today, and when he is discharged he will not have to walk from the hospital to his home over 5 miles away, that we could provide a bus pass. He forgets what I say, or is too obsessed at the moment to retain, because 20 mins later he is in the hall looking for me to once again relay his concerns. I feel helpless to do much more for him than to continue to assure and distract him. I offer magazines, cards, puzzle books, movies. He declines.
My compassion rises for one who has not another person to even pick him up from the hospital, that this is his main concern- not incurable liver disease. A gift comes from emphatic compassion for another, I pray for him.
Betty and Leonard are of simple mind. They have needs that they themselves do not recognize. The third individual I will tell you about also has much needs and nothing to offer another. The gift, once again, is one I receive as I give.
A woman in her early 50’s, is confined to a nursing home-one that is not a very good one, I must conclude; as she presents to us in a neglected state. I will call her Cheryl. Cheryl is non-verbal and only can move her eyes and some of her facial muscles. Nothing else of her physical body is workable due to a history of a massive stroke. She is fed with continuous feed in a peg tube (feeding tube in stomach). She has a rectal tube now to manage constant watery stool. She goes to dialysis 3 times a week due to kidney failure.
Her ‘family’ has placed her in a nursing home and her leg is rotting off. I say this bluntly because this is how it is. . A wound on her back and leg and feet are necrotic and foul smelling. I tenderly change her bandages, holding her limp thin leg as I layer the gauze around it. She whimpers and tears come from her eyes when care is given. I stroke her hair. I say I’m sorry. Her blue eyes plead with me-what- I can’t say, but can only imagine. I’m found helpless to do only what I am commissioned to do. I pray for Cheryl.
God, you are the defender of the weak. I trust you to work out the highest good and best outcome for Betty, Leonard and Cheryl. Amen.
I clock out and go meet with my family to enjoy a birthday celebration on this beautiful Easter Day.