I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve that night. I carefully laid out my blue scrubs, found my pens and calculator, and dug my stethoscope out of the drawer where it's been languishing since last March. I got into bed and laid there, wide awake, far too excited to sleep.
Walking onto the ward the next morning to find my report sheet (and everyone else's) adorned with some fingerprint art by one of my youngest patients was a pretty clear indication that it was going to be an awesome day, and the next eight hours certainly did not disappoint.
Nursing is apparently something like riding a bike or driving a car, none of which I get to do with anything resembling frequency. After the initial moment of hesitation when I realized that one of my patients was one of the more complex ones on the ward and that I wasn't actually sure whether or not I remembered what half the words in the surgery column next to her name meant, I gathered my courage and jumped back into the whirlwind.
It was a busy shift, but not so busy that I didn't get to chat a bit with my patients and their mamas. They were overjoyed to find out that I was pregnant, and I spent much of the morning with a hand on my belly. (At one point, I was actually in the middle of changing out a trach when I felt an arm snake around from behind me to give Bubba a little pat. D Ward nursing at its finest.) I got to change bandages and take out sutures and draw blood on a beautiful little baby who, it turns out, is incredibly ticklish and willing to forgive you for sticking her with a needle at the drop of a
And it wasn't just my own patients who filled my heart. It was meeting the others who we've been praying for as a ship family. Patients like the young man in the ICU who just days ago was fighting for his life and who today was sitting up in a chair watching football. Patients like Angelique who, for the past eight years, had slowly been starving to death as a massive tumour took over her jaw.
She's been struggling to heal and gain weight since her operation, and the whole ship has come together to pray over her; meeting her felt kind of like meeting a celebrity, to be honest. She was just a few beds over from one of my patients, looking so much better than she does even in that second photo, and when she heard I was pregnant, she smoothed her gown over her own belly to show me how it was growing before grinning and breaking out into some kind of muffled song while we danced together.
When my shift was over, I came back to the cabin to find that Zoe had woken up early from her nap, so there was really only one logical thing to do. I found her shoes, and we headed up a flight of stairs to where we could hear all my new friends scraping their chairs and getting settled to enjoy the fresh air on the deck right above our cabin. I sat down next to the belly-rubbing mama, held out my arms for the baby I'd been taking care of, and watched as Zoe quickly made friends with the plastics patients, sharing wagon rides and blowing bubbles with sweet Benjamine.
I was chatting to the mama next to me when I looked up to see Zoe walking away from me with a little patient who was probably eight or nine years old. The girl was bandaged from chest to elbow, her arm held out at a ninety degree angle from her body by a hard plastic splint. Zoe was practically on her tiptoes, her arm stretched up as high as it could go so she could hold her new friend's hand, completely oblivious to the gauze and tape and stigma that have followed this girl since the day she was burned as they headed off in search of adventure together.
I fought back tears as I looked around at realized what I was bearing witness to out there on Deck Seven and what I had been a part of down on D Ward that morning. A strange community of patients and nurses and translators and a little girl making new friends, drawn together from around the country and around the world by the sure knowledge that there is beauty behind every broken smile, that pain is not a birthright, and that standing together in the face of death and despair is a privilege that should never be taken lightly.
I can hear them now, moving around on the roof above where I sit as I write. I can picture their faces and hear their stories, and I have never been more grateful to live in this community and be called to this work.
(All patient photos in this entry are © Mercy Ships.)