I love that I was raised catholic. My spirituality is felt deep in my bones. My team blossomed along side of me in those days as a child. I knew without a doubt that I had guardian angels who were always with me, who never left my side. Looking back… such innocence… or was it?
There was a time when I banished those angels, they were forgotten. A time that I felt loneliness and despair, wondering who in the hell was at my side. Struggling as a single mom, not feeling any love, only giving, giving, giving of myself all the damn time!
When I was accepted into nursing school, my first thought was, “There really must be angels at my side!”. Seriously. I had given up that hope along the way. As I’m working a part time job at a family pharmacy, being a mother to a baby girl as a single parent, studying so hard to get into nursing school at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, overwhelmed and fatigued… it was my angels, my team, that got me through it all.
There was no other explanation. When I was late to class, I asked my team for the best parking spot and it would open up in front of my eyes. They had my back.When I was struggling with pharmacology, crying in the school elevator, thinking this profession just isn’t for me… I met and became quick friends with a tutor who helped me through that pharmacology class. I struggled, yes, but never without somehow having the resources in life to push through the discomfort… my angels and guides.
When I was in my second semester and having received the outstanding clinical nursing award in my first semester, I was asked by my teacher to take on the responsibility of caring for a newly injured man who was just a few years older than me. I was 22. He was 27. He was to be my patient as long as he was in Charity. This was New Orleans free hospital. It was set up in old school wards. There was no privacy for anyone… except for him.
I read through my client’s chart with abandon. Loving the aspect of hands on care as opposed to studying and examinations, I was excited to start this semester off, stepping back into the nostalgic space of Charity Hospital. I was assigned my patient. Just one. That’s odd.
I quickly realized why and was a nervous wreck after reading his chart. So many injuries to his body. He was on the side of the road, changing a tire, a police cruiser had pulled up behind him. He was standing between the cruiser and his own truck as a drunk driver hit the cruiser and pinned him bumper to bumper, locking him in place at the knees. I looked up, into his room of glass walls. He was lying so still.
My nursing instructor, whom I adored, was from Nigeria. With her beautiful Nigerian accent she approached me as I looked up from his chart with tears in my eyes and she said, “He has no idea, he thinks that his legs are broken.” Stunned, I raised my voice a bit asking, “What do you mean, he has no idea!!”. She gently told me that he’d been there for 3 days, questioning his pain, wondering why the pain meds weren’t helping. She gave me a quick course on phantom pain. Phantom pain is when you feel the pain even though your limb is no longer there. He was feeling this pain, but no one on staff had the heart or soon to find out.. the nerve, to discuss it with him yet. I knew that she gave him to me for a reason, but didn’t know what that reason was. I felt that she was testing me somehow. I didn’t like it.
Other students had 2-3 patients at a time, mostly with hypertension, small wounds, dehydration. These patients would most likely be discharged in a few days and then my fellow students would get their next round of patients and on and on. My client was 6’2”, 280 pounds, with a broken pelvis, both legs amputated and a broken dominant hand.
He was here for the long haul and he would be my one and only.
We got off to an awful start. He began yelling at me as soon as I entered the room. “What the hell is a weak, pretty young white girl like you, going to do for me? Get the hell out of here!”. He was angry.
I ran out of the room.
My instructor was waiting outside. “Now you see why no one has told him of his injury?”
As I’m taken back to this moment in my life so very long ago, I can remember it like it was yesterday. He was in one of the best rooms that Charity had to offer. Private, glass walls and door, isolating him from sounds of other’s groaning, the smells, the beeping noise that was non-stop and he even had a beautiful view of the city… but he had no legs. He had not even one thought that they didn’t exist… because he was feeling the pain.
We eventually settled in with one another as the days wore on… and ON. Never discussing his legs. I did everything for him… everything. He was embarrassed and so was I. We were young. We became friends, he trusted me. There was not a piece of skin on his body that I had not seen or touched. He told me of his engagement, his future wife already having a son. His face lit up as he spoke about that child, I understood, as I had a little one myself and recently became engaged. We had much in common in this moment in time. His wedding was in a few months, so was mine. She hadn’t come to see him yet, but that was ok, he said. It was for the best, he said. She didn’t need this right now, she was planning the most exciting day of their lives, was the excuse he kept telling himself. He would get better over time and everything would be wonderful. This is what he held on to. I didn’t like her.
I’m good at hiding my emotions… not so much in this moment. I excused myself saying that I forgot something, walked toward his door as gracefully as I could, feeling like I couldn’t breathe, desperate for an escape. I closed his door gently behind me. Looking straight ahead, all eyes turned toward me, and the one in the glass box.
I ran straight out of the ward.
My instructor came to me after giving me a few minutes. I was expecting a loving embrace, because that’s who she was, instead she looked me directly in the eye, then eyed me up and down, head to toe, and in her soft Nigerian accent, though this time, not so soft, she said, “WHAT?! You just a weak, pretty young thing?. Yes, I heard what he said about you on your first day with him! Get your ass back in there and you tell him what’s going on! You tell him the TRUTH….You owe that to him!”
I slid down the wall instead.
I have never told this story as I am telling it to you now. It was always too painful. Too private.
My voice shook, but with force, I looked her in the eyes and said, “No! I’m not doing it.” A sob escape’s my throat, “I can’t!”. Like a lightning strike, she replies, “Oh, so you are weak? You think that this is why I gave him to you? To make you tough? That is not what I gave you that patient! This is not who you are. You can’t? Oh hell yes you can …and you will. You are the only one in this group of students who CAN! Your angels are always with you… you ask those angels of yours for help. You ask them because you need it! Because you and your angels are all he’s got right now!”
My angels. I realized in that instant that I only called on them when I was desperate and couldn’t handle a situation or when prompted to in mass. I never thought of them as always being with me. They way she spoke out loud of calling on my angels to help me, shook me to the core. She believed in her own team. She kept them at her side.
I took deep breaths, in and out. Through tears in my eyes I watched as medical students, physicians, fellow nursing students, passed by looking down on the poor little nursing student who just couldn’t handle it, sitting on the floor with tears running down her face.
That did it! No one is going to pity me while they take care of their patient with hypertension! I gathered my team close to me, pulled them in so close that electricity could be felt in my own limbs and headed to his door. I was on a mission, my body remembering this feeling now as I sit and write.
I walked right up to that glass wall, opened that glass door, then I saw his face laughing at me, with a huge smile on it as I realized that as usual I walked in without so much as a gentle knock. This was our running joke with him picking on me saying that I always walked in like I owned the place. His smile faltered, laugh leaving him, as he looked at my tear stained face, eyes swollen. Wanting to help me this time, he said, “What’s wrong Nicole? What’s happened that has you so upset?” I stood at the door. I just couldn’t do it. I began to walk backward and he said, “Don’t you walk away from me. We are friends, you can tell me.”
Pulling my angels close again, I walked even closer to him. I took his hand in mine. I said, “You have to trust me when I say that this is most definitely the hardest thing that I have ever done in my 23 years of living.” His eyebrows shot up. We shared many stories about ourselves. He now knew that what I had to say pertained to him, not me. “I’m tough, remember. You know me, I let you wipe my ass. I trust you. Tell me.”
I asked if he remembered the accident. He didn’t. I was upset that no one else had asked him these questions until now, but more upset with myself. I procrastinated out of fear. I explained to him what I had been told, talking about his legs being locked together in a vice between two bumpers and it taking hours to maneuver the cars apart and set him free as his fiancé stood by. He was shocked and said, “Ok, so that’s why they are crushed and I feel the pain”.
“Yes, that’s why you feel the pain. But this pain is called phantom pain. The pain that you are feeling is real to you. Very real.” Faltering, I continued, realizing that my words were calm and compassionate – feeling as though they came from another speaking through me, “What you don’t realize is that because of this phantom pain that you are feeling, you feel as though you still have your legs. Your legs were amputated at the scene. You don’t have your legs any longer. Either of them.”
No words out of his mouth. Only big tears rolling down his face. It all made sense to him in an instant he would say to me later. No one came to see him. No one. I was his only friend in these last few days. No one wanted to face him or talk about the future or confront how he would live on and the help that he would need.
My instructor walked in. She was watching us through the glass wall. She walked up behind me and put her hand on my back. I sobbed out loud, he pulled me so close that I was practically lying next to him. We held each other. My instructor rubbing my back with one hand and rubbing his shoulder with the other.
There was more than just us in that room. There was a loving presence surrounding us at that moment. We all felt it and spoke of it.
It wasn’t until I sat down to write something for this Sunday’s musing and thought… hmmm… maybe I’ll write a bit about spirit guides and angels… but nothing came to me.
I decided to just start to write whatever came to my mind. In an instant I was brought back to Charity Hospital and this moment in time that changed me. This moment in time when my words became effortless as I allowed my angels and guides to flow through me. I wasn’t spiritual per se then at 23. I just knew that I was never alone and trusted that the Universe was on my side in all that I did. That I had a purpose in life. I was determined to find it and live it. As a Registered Nurse, I specialized in wound care. The nasty kind of wounds that no one wants to look at, touch or smell. This kind of wound lit me up! I could heal them with my learned skills. It may take months or even in some cases years, but I could see these wounds heal with my own eyes. I did that. Soon, I became tired of healing those wounds day in and day out. I knew that this path in life and all the stories that I could tell of healing those wounds was leading to something. I didn’t know what that path was but I knew that I would be ok, taken care of, never without, because I trusted that life would ebb and flow, heartache be felt, love would flourish and falter, friends and family would come and go, joy would reveal itself then become weakened. This is life.
I don’t know what ultimately happened to my friend. I am happy to report to you that his fiancee’ did come to see him as the days went by. She assured him that she was true to him no matter what. It was as if she had waited, knowing that by this time, someone would have told him of his injury and he would have been able to come to grips with it somehow. She was right. I began to like her. I am grateful to her that she gifted me with our time spent together.
He and I, young humans, paths crossing through tragedy, my teacher’s trust in me.. this life challenge, the many lessons that I learned, wouldn’t have been possible if she were at his side and if my teacher did not see me for who I was. A courageous young 23 year old woman, who held many responsibilities and yet still didn’t quite see herself for who she was. A woman who was going to touch one human at a time in whatever she chose to do in life.
I hope that this story has touched you too.
Seek your angels. Seek your guides. They will not and have not forsaken you.