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Friday, September 28, 2012

One After-Shift Miracle

I’d just walked out to the nurses’ station, checked the clipboard for my assigned patients, and heard the Head Nurse calling. “Hey, Sojourner, good afternoon. You’re not on the clipboard today.”

“Hmm? Is this your subtle way of telling me I’m fired?” We were both laughing; she was shaking her head.

“No, nothing as drastic as all that but maybe you’ll think it as bad when I tell you.” Her smile drew to a thin line, but her eyes were still sparkling. I was certainly curious.

“Hey, I’m tough. Go ahead and lay it on me, Boss!”

“We don’t have enough patients and the Evening Supervisor said we have to send someone over to work in Ortho. Guess you know, being the last to join the team, that someone would be you.” True, all of the other ladies had been on the Maternity ward like forever and, believe me, none of them was the slightest bit interested in working any other place, even for one shift.

“Oh, that’s fine. I worked on the Orthopedic Surgical Ward off and on last summer. I’m used to being floated to other places. Should I change out of my scrubs or just go like this?”

”No, don’t change; I want them to remember you are on loan. If we suddenly get a rush on babies just needing to see the outside world at the same time, I’ll have them send you back to us. It’ll be faster to just change to a new scrub dress if you stay like that.” Agreeing, I made my way out the closed door that separates Maternity from the rest of the hospital.

Even though the different wards of the hospital have, basically, the same floorplans, the powers-that-be rarely put things in the same place on each ward. That’s one of the hardest parts about being sent to another ward. The nurses and aides on Orthopedics were nice to me and joined in to lend a hand whenever I had need. I reckon my Maternity scrubs let everyone know I probably did need help if I asked… a foreigner in their midst.

As I greeted each of my patients that evening shift, my introduction had to include a reason I wasn’t dressed like the others who usually worked that ward. One lady, in particular, felt badly for me and expressed her concern. “Oh dear, how awful for you! You are used to being with all that joy as the new baby is welcomed into the family and, now, you’re here with all of those who are suffering so.”

I couldn’t tell her of the patients I had been caring for just two days earlier, of course. In one room a broken-hearted adolescent had held her baby for only a couple of minutes before the infant was pulled out of her arms, given to the waiting adoption agency rep. In the very next room a recently married woman of only twenty-one years had just learned that she would have a total hysterectomy the next morning. The awful, unexpected discovery of cancer crushed the young couple’s dreams of having their own family. I spent a lot of my shift drying their tears, as well as my own. “Maternity Ward” doesn’t always equal unbridled joy.

“Well, Mrs. Murphy*, it is my pleasure to help those who are suffering find some relief, too. Is there anything I can get for you? Are you hurting anywhere?” Taking her hand in mine, I sat down on the edge of her bed.

“No, dear, I don’t need anything. Nothing can be done, really. The nurse gave me something for pain a short while ago; I’ll be better in a little bit. Go on with your other work; go help someone who can be helped.” Standing, I recorded the vital signs I’d taken, and handed her the juice I’d brought for her.

“Okay, I’ll be on my way for now. Just push your call button if you can think of anything you’d like before I check back.” Mrs. Murphy just nodded her head as her lips found the edge of the juice glass.

After I’d completed the initial checking of my assigned patients, I pulled Mrs. Murphy’s chart, hoping to find the reason for her despair. Orthopedics is not usually a gloomy place; though it can certainly be a ward full of people in post-operative pain. “Oh, you checking on Mrs. Murphy?” I looked up to see the Med Nurse glancing over my shoulder.

“Yeah, she seems so terribly miserable and it doesn’t appear to be just physical pain. She is too far past surgery to be suffering with just the usual post-operative pain so I thought I’d see what I’m missing.” I’d already read the Operation Report and flipped to the Progress Notes.

“You’ll not find it in there. Not yet, anyway. She’s got an atypical bone tumor that they are just waiting to have identified before treatment can be ordered. She says that she knows she’s dying right now. The priest has been to visit her twice already today.  Not really much you can do for her, Sweetie.”

Throughout my shift, I stopped in to sit and speak with Mrs. Murphy as often as I could. It appeared to me that her stress was increasing, nearly to the point of agitation. The nurse administered her pain medication often but it didn’t really seem to help her relax that much. I wanted to offer to pray for Mrs. Murphy but it was against hospital rules; I couldn’t do that while working. She would have to ask me as a visitor not an employee.

“Mrs. Murphy, I’ll get off shift at 11:30. If you are still awake, would you like me to stop in and we can have a prayer together?” I was surprised when Mrs. Murphy squeezed my hand so hard it hurt. I had no idea she had that much strength left.

“Oh, please, would you come back. I’ll not be asleep, please.” I assured her I would not leave for home until I had stopped to pray with her.

*Name Changed

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