In 1999, doctors removed half my husband’s liver and gall bladder to eliminate a tumor.  Bill was expected home in ten days, but he survived 67 in ICU.  His nurse John was polite and thorough, but I found him very irritating. He never laughed or smiled, wouldn’t mention Bill had visitors, and worst of all, called me Ma’am! Arrgghh!

 

I tried to communicate with John. After sleeping at home, I would ask if anyone had visited and get only a yes or no. No names. No times. Not even the slightest smile. And the “ma’am” thing… I asked him to call me Jeanine, but all I heard was ma’am! He was from the South; it was a term of respect. I insisted “Jeanine” was all the respect I needed.

 

Meanwhile, Bill looked horrible. Day one, puffy, his kidneys stopped. Day two, on dialysis. Day three, still unconscious, his eyes rolled back. I don’t know how I managed to teach all day and spend long nights in the hospital, but that’s what I did, saving my leave for Bill’s return home.

The fourth day, before leaving for the hospital, I said a prayer. “Lord, you know I want to see Bill, but I’m really having a hard time with John. Please, help me get through this.”

 

On my way in, I learned OHSU nurses were on verge of a strike. Oh, wow. Our district had gotten close. Talk about stress. I decided to say something to John.

 

“I heard you’re close to striking. As a teacher, I’ve been there, and I know how stressful it can be. I’m sorry.”

 

“You teach? I have so much respect for teachers. It’s such an important job.”

 

That morning John cracked a little joke and gave a smile. What a relief! I placed a journal with a sign on the window ledge. John even pointed visitors to it. Now Bill’s friends and family could leave messages. And John finally dropped the “ma’am!”

 

During Bill’s 67 days in ICU, he had 33 nurses, John more than others. John became a mainstay of support. While Bill’s nurses were admirable, Bill's kids and I came to know and trust John the most. We could ask tough questions: Have you seen patients recover when they’re like this, sporadically conscious, with blood pressure down to 32/23? John’s actions taught me compassion and honesty while facing hard times. He was gently supportive, especially the day I could not stop crying. He told me he’d never seen anyone so dedicated. (By then I’d gotten leave from work, often slept the night in the chair-turned-cot, and sought every way possible to comfort Bill and communicate friends’ loving support.)

John seemed to take Bill’s kids and I under a wing that covered the families of his patients, and he attended to us as we navigated this unexpected, challenging road.

 

After Bill died, I returned with symbolic gifts—full-spectrum lights—to thank the nurses for their sustaining Light.  One nurse said enough for me to realize that, most likely, Bill almost died that first night. Probably those first few days were a real stretch to keep him alive. No wonder John wasn’t smiling.

 

I’m thankful for Spirit’s nudge to say that one little prayer, the prayer that opened me to receive such kind support when sorely needed.

—Jeanine DuBois