You learn through experience, so it has been proven. When a child touches a hot stove, the injury to the flesh is his teacher. The child can see, feel and touch why he should in the future beware of hot stoves. Of course, there are some words spoken but this lesson is tangible and straightforward. The process by which we learn about emotion can be a different experience altogether.
The nursing profession is a wonderful venue for experiences that could, if one was receptive, teach the more difficult life lessons. I value the years I spent completely and solely dedicated to nursing. There are experiences that penetrated my being and have resided there since. Whether labeled “happy” or “sad”, each is equally as vital to my development. I recall this one in particular often.
I could not have been older than 26; I was an eager and conscientious RN on the L&D unit. My eyes were wide open and I was still walking in my dream world. I would climb a mountain with a laboring Mom on my back if it was required! It was an inclusively demanding job but I relished in it, an easy smile planted on my wrinkle free face.
A call bell rang at the nurse’s station and like many others, what beckoned changed my life, it changed me. It was lunch time, it was “busy” and nurses were making a feable attempt to eat something.
A preceding “biinnng” and the light lit up above Birthing Room 6. I was in the doorway two doors down leaving my patient’s room. I considered my options. I knew her nurse was off the unit for a moment. I took a deep breath and it came to me what I should do~ I vowed to remain calm, helpful and pleasant. I would behave as I normally would. My gut instructed my feet forward with a pleasant smile.
The large wooden door was completely closed for privacy purposes. Her room was the farthest away from the hustle and bustle of the unit. I reached for the metal handle and gently opened the door. Even then, the privacy curtain was partly pulled and obscured the view of the room. I pulled it aside and focused my eyes on the bed and the patient. I knew she was not alone, but I allowed myself to only register her in that moment.
She looked tired, as they all ultimately do, but she still managed to return my smile. She had a simple request that escapes me now, but what came after never has.
As I finished assisting her as I typically would, I quietly turned to leave. In the rocking chair at the opposite corner of the room sat her husband. He cradled a still bundle of blankets. He himself was still. His attention held by the tiny features that managed to peak out from the blankets. I turned my attention to him and then to the bundle as I moved towards him.
I softly smiled and asked respectfully, “May I see him?” He nodded but kept his faithful gaze on his son. I leaned in and took in the beautiful, perfect face of his son.
I gently pulled back the blankets from his forehead, a soft tuft of hair poked out. I took in his delicate ears, his strong nose and his angled chin. His lips slightly blue, his spirit gone.
“He is beautiful.” I whispered loud enough for both parents to hear. I added, “What’s his name?”
His father politely responded but his attention stayed on his son’s face, searching for something lost in his arms.
Weeks passed, I unexpectedly received mail at work. Intrigued, I opened it. In it, a descriptive and thoughtful “Thank You” card that expressed a sentiment I will never forget;
“You may never know how much your kindness meant to me. I will never have the chance to hear others call my son ‘beautiful’. I am forever grateful for you that day.”
I would care for other bereaved parents with every ounce of compassion and humanity with her as my beacon. Today, when others remark how happy my job must have been, I always agree. But, this is typically followed by a pause and a sympathetic frown, “Well, not always; I would imagine?”
I have not ever quite been able to articulate, “Yes, not always. In truth, sprinkled between those happy, exhilarating moments, there were moments that could only be described as beautifully sad.”