Powerful and Silent

I am a nurse although no longer working as one. I have many fond memories of my time at the bedside. I also have disturbing memories of terribly injured and dying people under my care. Those images are hard to get out of my mind.

I met all kinds of people throughout my thirteen years of work in critical care and interventional radiology. The joy of watching someone who had been at death’s doorstep recover is beyond description. I saw bedside miracles and I saw great tragedies. Healing someone by use of advanced training and care gave me a deeper understanding of the compassion Jesus had when he looked on the needy masses.

Several incidents stand out in my mind, two of which were in my last year of working. The first happened one morning as I was bringing a patient to a dressing area in preparation for a procedure. The patient was walking unaided, but his wife was in a wheelchair and looked uncomfortable. My job was to take care of him, but she was clearly in distress and needed attention. I began asking questions and was told that she had been very short of breath that morning, so bad that she couldn’t walk from the hospital entrance to the radiology department. I put my stethoscope to her back and listen to her lungs as she breathed. The whole lower lung field on one side was silent. The other side was only marginally better. I promptly sent her to the ER.

The next day, the physician who admitted the woman came to tell me I’d saved her life. She had cancer which had led to a pleural effusions (fluid around the lung) causing one of her lungs to collapse. The cancer had not been previously detected. I walked taller that day, thinking of how my skills had been used to keep the woman from immediate demise. Moreover, I contemplated what prompted me to pay attention to her instead of cavelierly brushing her off. I think it was the quiet, still voice of God.

Another incident brings a smile to my face every time I think of it. My patient was a man in his fifties who was on his fourth balloon angioplasty of his iliac (groin) artery. I always read patients’ histories prior to greeting them, so I was aware he was a smoker. I knew from counseling patients in cardiac rehab that unless a person wanted to quit smoking, no amount of reasoning or haranguing would get them to quit.

I was of this mindset when I parted the curtain around the little intake area where the patient lay on a stretcher. I greeted him in my usual cheery manner. Before I could say more than my name and that I was his nurse, he growled, “I know why I'm here and don’t you tell me to quit smoking!” I straightened, put on my biggest smile and replied, “Why would I do that? It’s only job security for me.” He looked at me in utter shock, then a sheepish grin spread over his face. We both cracked up. Instead of getting into a dual over his lifestyle choice, I disarmed him. We got along just fine and before he was discharged, he acknowledged he should give up cigarettes. That same quiet voice nudged me to care about the man as much as care for him.

My nursing career was cut short by a disastrous back injury. Fusion surgery led to a serious complication which left me in unimaginable pain. I was in agony for days if I walked more than a block. I had to rely on a wheelchair for mobility for three years. Worse than the physical pain was the grief over losing my career. I was good at what I did. I loved what I did.

I do not believe for an instant that God wanted things to go awry for me, but He was there to pick up the pieces of my shattered life. The condition is permanent, but I am boundlessly grateful for the healing that has allowed me to resume a fairly normal life. We cannot see the future; we can only look back and realize we were carried through the worst of times in powerful but silent ways. On the worst days of my patients’ lives, they were also carried through in powerful but silent ways.

Occasionally, I run into the people I've had the privilege of nursing back to health. They remember me more than I remember them; so many faces over the years blur together. They thank me for helping them through their illness and tell me how they’re doing. I'm mostly unaware of the lives I've touched, but it’s gratifying to know I made a difference.

The Santa Barbara Mission, California

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