by | Jun 4, 1999 | Healing

Maria’s arrest record for prostitution was her claim to fame. She had been a “frequent flyer”, in and out of the hospital for drug addiction-related maladies, so this admission would probably be no different from the previous ones. She would be hydrated and medicated and followed by the medical residents, then sent on her way until the next visit. How little did I know what was planned for both of us.

My usual routine is to get nursing report, then make a quick check on each of my patients before mixing the medications needed for the night shift. I call it my “drive-by”, introducing myself, locking bed brakes, sniffing out potential problems which could rapidly snowball into a crisis. Making a mental note of each patient’s needs helps me prioritize the care to be given, so the initial assessment is invaluable.

Assuming Maria’s stay would be the same as it always was, and knowing she was familiar with the routine, I breezed into her room with the intent of an exchange of smiles and handwaves. Rounding the corner of the curtain separating the two beds, I found a very different Maria from the ebullient woman I had known. In place of a bold, laughing chatterbox was a somber, pale figure lying quietly in the darkness on the unrelenting hardness of the plastic hospital mattress. A wan smile replaced the usual hearty greeting, and my senses immediately went into full alert.

Was she in pain? There was certainly something ordered to give her relief. I knelt by her bed and questioned her. Oh, yes, she was in pain, but not the kind most of us know. She told me that her newly diagnosed cancer was a fast-moving type for which there was no cure. Her pain was in her soul.

When my care for the other patients was complete, Maria’s room was where I could be found, listening to her tale of countless men and drugs which took her away from ugly reality. Her children had been taken away from her, but, oh, how she loved them. She said she was “no good”, and they deserved someone who could care for them, but not a day passed that she didn’t miss them. Now she was approaching the end of life on earth and was turning to face the demons of her past. How ashamed she felt!

Her sorrow was seemingly insurmountable as she repeatedly told me what an awful person she had been. I allowed her to talk herself to sleep, and prayed for the wisdom to know what to say. This pain was more excruciating than any I had ever encountered. What could I say that would be of any help? I didn’t want to be an empty talking box, reciting platitudes which meant nothing.

I carried the vivid memory of her anguish home with me, and after a few hours sleep, searched through my collection of spiritual readings, and found exactly what I needed.

Returning to the hospital, I gave her a poem about Jesus forgiving Mary Magdalen, and I spoke about God’s unconditional love for her, Maria. Unrehearsed words crossed my lips in an endless procession, and I passionately poured out my heart. She read the poem. Once. Twice. Again. Then, the tears trickled down her cheeks and she reached up and hugged me with the tightest squeeze she could muster.

“This is me in the poem. My mother has been telling me about Jesus for so many years, but I wouldn’t listen. Now, you are telling me the same thing. He loves me no matter what I did? So, it must be true. I have to find out more about Him.” Speechless, I returned the hug. When I checked her later, she was sleeping with the poem tightly clutched in her hand.

My assignment was changed for the rest of the week, and we didn’t have the chance for any more talks. I did put a Bible on her bedside table while she napped, and on the day of her discharge, I stopped at her room to say good-bye. She was sitting up against a bank of pillows, Bible open in her hands, peacefully absorbed in the printed text. She flashed a smile when I walked in. “You gave this to me, didn’t you? I just know it was you! You’ll never know what it means to me.” She was going home to live with her mother for her remaining time and to make amends with her children.

I never saw Maria again. My part in her life was fleeting, and certainly was not in the official nursing care plan, but I was reminded once again that the Great Physician uses all of us to do His work, even in the middle of the night.

Irene Budzynski, R.N. irene_budd@yahoo.com

Irene and her husband of 33 years live in New England where they raised three sons. Her work has appeared in HeartTouchers, Heartwarmers, and various online websites. “Night Shift” was featured on Nightsounds Radio; “More than a Paycheck” will be included in the next Heartwarmers book; and two of her stories were semifinalists for Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her last project was to assist her 85 year old author friend (who has been writing for over 50 years) to self-publish a book. “What a testing of patience!”