What the Nurse Did for the Patient Will Make You Cry

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In my perpetual haste I rushed by the building but failed to notice moisture pooled beneath a rainspout. A transparent film of ice floated on top.

My clumsy fall required a metal plate and screws to line up my broken bones to heal. The doctor called it a “tib fib double reduction.”

I called it excruciating.

He explained that both the tibia and fibula were broken. I literally didn’t have that leg to stand on!

“Aggressive physical therapy will enable you to walk with only a slight limp. But you’ll have to give up those high heels.”

When I tried to stand, I simply fainted. My optimism faded a bit more each time I slumped, and my recuperation required someone to stay nearby.

Friends and family rearranged busy lives. Soon a Maryjo-sitting and meal delivery schedule hung on the refrigerator. Meals came in. Dirty laundry went out. Freshly folded clothes came back. One sweet soul made my floors and oven sparkle.

These activities underscored my incapacity. I was a doer unaccustomed to sitting still. The vulnerability I felt was overwhelming.

I didn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t even want to read. I lay in a medicated haze of pain and self-pity when Trish entered quietly. She juggled family and her career more deftly than most, but I hadn’t expected to see her here. Not with her shift work and tight schedule.

“I felt so bad for you when I heard about this. I know how hard it must be for you, being forced to slow down. And the pain from that kind of injury is pretty tough.”

She softly closed the bedroom door, turned down the lights, and began arranging pillows and bedcovers with practiced dexterity.

“This is quite a trauma. Try to be patient. You have to be open to the healing process. Rest. And take the pain medications as directed. Muscling your way through and doing without only makes things worse. You’ll only be on these meds for a short time.”

I had to listen to this longtime friend. I’d watched Trish go back to school when our sons were still quite young, and I’d always admired the tenacity it took to complete her nursing degree.

Still, the truth she spoke I found hard to take, and my protests and resentment popped out despite my efforts to stifle them.

“Look at me. Other people are running Mom’s taxi, doing my wash, cooking meals . . . even cleaning my oven, for heaven’s sake. I can’t even go to the bathroom by myself without blacking out!”

“Feels weird for you to be on the accepting end of things, doesn’t it? You’ll get used to it. Healing doesn’t take forever. Now, accept one more thing,” she said softly.

“Allow me to give you a sponge bath. My patients tell me I’m pretty good at them.”

Trish and I had been friends over a decade. We’d taken care of sick children, shared recipes and outings. But . . . give me a bath? I was feverish and sweaty.Worse, my own perspiration, tinged acrid by medication, smelled foreign and awful.

No way. Embarrassed, I shook my head.

“You’ll feel refreshed, more like yourself.”

She turned and started wetting a cloth in the steaming pan of water I had not seen until that moment. She held up a bottle of baby lotion, the thick pink kind.

“If you use this instead of soap, there’s no need to rinse. It moisturizes your skin and smells fresh.”

She placed the now-saturated cloth beneath my nose. The light aroma was very pleasing. Just the thought of smelling like that made me nod “Okay.”

With gentle strength she positioned each limb so that she did all the work, my modesty intact. All I had to do was relax. She swirled the warm cloth in each crease and crevice, wiping away misery with the dead skin cells. She carefully lifted limb after limb. Fingers and toes received attention, and as she lotioned each digit, encouragement soaked in.

Then she shampooed my hair, firm fingers massaging my crusty scalp. My matted hair curled again. I’ll never know how she did it without sloshing water everywhere.

Trish’s sponge bath gave me so much more than the refreshment of a clean body. She restored my dignity and gave me a calm that saw me through the many tough days of healing ahead.

My dear friend had a nurse’s touch that was the best medicine for my aching soul.

H/T: Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul Second Dose