Story by Irene Budzynski
Graveyard shift, night shift, third shift — they all meant the same thing to me–eight hours of no sleep. I walked up the hill to the hospital entrance, each leg feeling as if it was cast in concrete. Mulling over what a nursing instructor had told me at graduation, I giggled despite my exhaustion. “You’re working nights? Take lots of books to read because you won’t have anything to do.” Hah! Little did he know that there weren’t enough hours on the face of the earth to finish all the tasks in a night.
I barely had my coat off my shoulders when patients started ringing their call lights for instant attention. Medications needed mixing, doctors were phoning in orders, and the evening nurse was insistently trying to give report in the middle of the chaos. It was a typical night on a surgical unit.
I took a deep breath, grabbed my stethoscope, and began to jot down notes about my assignment. Ten patients! How in the world would I ever give the kind of care that they deserved? I could feel the hysteria building. My pulse picked up a couple of beats and the first cup of coffee was a mere memory by the time I grabbed the medication cart parked in the nurse’s station and rolled it into the hall.
Already an hour had passed and I was overwhelmed. I told myself to “chill” and to deal with one room at a time. Easier said than done. It seemed that every patient had a complication, a request, a need, or a complaint. Rushing around like a whirling dervish, I pushed myself harder and harder. Taunting me was the image of the paperwork to tend to when I finished my care, and I tried to pick up speed so I could beat the clock.
The last room was quiet and dark. It looked as though I was in the clear. I could tiptoe in and out, then rush off to attack the mountain of reports. Since the patient was being discharged in the morning, he really didn’t need me for anything right then. He could be assessed more thoroughly when he woke later in the night.
No such luck! “Nurse?” The timid voice reached my ears just as I was about to close the door. “Nurse?” Oh, how I wished I never heard that word! Why hadn’t I walked a little faster before he heard my rubber-soled shoes? I turned towards the man under a twisted pile of blankets and sheets and replied, “Yes? Is there anything I can do for you?” “I was wondering… I was diagnosed with cancer today, and I was wondering if you have time to talk?”
And so began his cry from the soul. I sat at this gentle man’s bedside and listened while he bared his emotions and exposed his fears. I prayed with him, forgetting about the work that I had deemed so important just an hour before. When he had nothing left to say, I held his hands and told him that I wished I could wave a magic wand to cure him. All I could do was to be there for him, to listen, and to pray that he would receive the strength to deal with his illness. We cried together, and I stood to leave the room.
His final words continue their echo in my mind. “I prayed to God to send someone to me so I could talk. My wife died a month ago and I have no one. Thank you for being here with me and taking the time to listen. I know the Lord sent you to me in the middle of the night.”
That encounter was a God-tap on my shoulder to remind me that He knows how much I can handle. My eight hours of work while the rest of the world sleeps is no longer work as I knew it. It is reporting for duty, ready for whatever assignment God deems necessary.
Mother Teresa understood that when she wrote, “It is not how much you do but how much love you put into the doing and sharing with others that is important.”
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