You ask me why I became a nurse and I probably won’t have an answer for you. In that moment, glancing into your inquisitive eyes filled with skepticism, I’ll only remember the vomit, the blood, the angst of seeing an infant go home with an incapable mother.
And then there will be one day, no, not even a full day, but maybe just a moment, that it almost makes sense to me.
Maybe it’s a comment from the man with maimed legs as he dreams of running through Heaven’s green grass.
Maybe it’s just a “look” from a mother, exhausted and heartsick, as she struggles with the reality her baby won’t live to see his first birthday.
Or maybe, like the story I’m about to tell you, that moment of realization comes after you’ve walked through hell with a patient.
Even if that realization comes six months too late.
The sign taped to the wall behind her bed, read: Patient Is Blind.
That is the first thing I noticed about her and I’m sorry, now, that I stood by her bed awkwardly, hushed and unsure how I was going to care for her. She stared straight forward, eyes fixed, staring at what appeared to be the ceiling but at that moment, I thought, how weird, that someone who is blind would even open their eyes.
I introduced myself, asked her where she was from, how she had slept during the night, if she was experiencing any nausea.
Every patient has a story and while I palpated pulses and peeled back the dressing covering her incision, she pulled me into the story of her life.
“My life hasn’t been easy,” she whispered. “Not being able to see requires someone else to see for you. And sometimes, they only see what they want to see, not what they need to see.”
I nodded, then realized she couldn’t see me, so I said, “I’m sure it has been difficult for you.”
It was a textbook answer, straight from within the cover of Effective Communication, but it seemed to work. As if turning the page, she talked of how she loved to hold her dogs, how one was fluffy and one was short-haired, how she enjoyed sitting on the porch in the spring, smell the peonies on the breeze, how she could listen for hours to smooth jazz, the saxophone beckoning her to feel, to sway, to take her away.
I listened, intrigued how those without eyesight often see more clearly, really, than those with.
That morning, she asked me to explain what was outside her window. She told me about learning Braille. How her mother would still call her on Skype to read to her.
In the afternoon, her husband came to visit.
He was a big man with hairy arms.
He wore a sleeveless shirt, too. Had a scraggly mustache. A potbelly, too.
I was helping her sit up in bed when he first swore at me.
“You’re hurting her,” he spit.
“She needs to sit up. Having a surgery makes everything more tender. We’re going as slowly as possible,” I reassured.
So she sat at the edge of the bed, panting, perspiring and tired and I asked if she was dizzy.
“A little,” she gasped.
“See, she shouldn’t be sitting up, you #*&@!*” his voice was rough, in my ear, still angry.
“It’s good for the lungs,” my voice was shaking. “And the doctor said…”
“Honey,” she gasped, “He’s just doing his job.”
And that’s when he slapped her, hard, across the face and the sting was loud, like I had been hit too. Stunned, I laid her back down in bed as she began to cry.
An assistant hurried to call security and as they led him away, I stood leaned against the wall, heart beating loud, hands shaking.
That’s when she told us about the shed.
“It’s raining,” she cried. “It’s raining and can you call…”
She gripped my hand.
“Can you call my husband? I’ve been a good girl now. I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll be a good girl. Good girl. Good girl. Can you tell him I’ll be good? It’s raining in here. It’s raining and I don’t like to be wet but I’m getting wet. Can you ask my husband if I can go back inside? I’ve been a good girl.”
“Can you tell me what your name is?” the doctor asked.
She ignored her. “This pickup bed is hard. I can’t…” she’s screaming now. “And it’s wet. And I don’t want to go to the shed. I’ve been a good girl! Please tell him I’ve been a good girl!”
“It’s not raining. And you’re in the hospital.” The doctor glanced at me, nervous.
I watch the oxygen reading, wondering if her brain wasn’t getting enough.
“It’s sprinkling on my face.” She’s sobbing now, hands shaking and she squeezes my hand.
Her hand is wet with tears.
“I’m soaked already.”
That’s when I notice, in all the happenings over the past twenty minutes, that she’s wet herself.
Others arrive to help change her. They introduce themselves and she doesn’t take notice but when she’s unclothed and the assistant is wiping her clean, she screams, “Turn that video camera off, you sick son of a #&*%!. Turn. It. Off.”
She grits her teeth, angry tears coursing their way down her cheeks.
“I need to talk to my husband,” she cries. “This is just like all the stories I’ve heard. You will take me, kill me, and dump my body somewhere and I’ll never be found again. I’ve been a good girl and he’ll take care of me, if I can just talk to him.”
Some call it psychogenic amnesia, where the mind blocks out painful memories as if they never happened. I call it one of the closest times I’ve brushed arms with the devil.
She eventually went home with him, the man with hairy arms and a potbelly.
And there was nothing I could do about it.
Maybe to you, there is no silver lining in this story. Maybe to you, it sounds like the worst possible job a man could do. But to me, in the afternoons when I have a spare moment at the nurses’ station, or when I’m driving home from work, I think about her.
And I pray.
I pray for her safety, for the abused, the mistreated, for those who cannot see, for the ones who have taught me to see what I need to see, not just what I want to see.
And then one night, the dream comes.
The pickup bed is cold. Rain slaps angry against its metal. And then the engine roars and I hear her crying as it bumps down the lane… away from me.
I wake in a cold sweat. The sheet is drenched beneath me.
And then I pray as hard as I’ve ever prayed before because I think about it, that maybe it’s happening, right now, at three in the morning and I’m the only person who was there, during that horrific afternoon.
Despite how helpless I feel, I am thankful that she has one person whispering her name to the heavens.
You ask me why I’m a nurse.
I probably couldn’t tell you, even now.
But I think I understood why, for a second there, as I told you this story.
*the situations, dates, names, locations, genders etc… have all been omitted or changed to protect the identity of the individuals in the story.