Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

July 13, 2003


Some unforgettable moments from 22 days in the hospital


          My second week in the hospital, wrestling with blood clots, is difficult for me to remember. I recall being extremely weak and anxious. I realized that the people around me were also worried. I remember thinking that my time might be up.

            A few memories are engraved in my mind. Some of these I want never to lose. Others are not worth keeping.

            After a few days in the Cardiac Care Unit, I realized that my nurses knew what they were doing. They were skilled professionals, and they genuinely cared for me. This helped reassure me that, whatever the outcome of my illness, I was in good hands.

            Sometimes it takes a critical illness to remind us that we all take the simple things in life for granted. This was the big lesson for me, so let me explain.

            Crushed ice, for example, is a simple thing. It is available to most of us daily in our homes. I normally use crushed ice in my drinks, whether tea, milk, or soft drinks. However, in the hospital I found a glorious new appreciation for crushed ice.

            When I was too weak to help myself, a spoonful of crushed ice was gently placed in my mouth, a hundred times, by a kind nurse or a loving family member. Time and again, the ice was a lifesaver to me. It seemed to buoy my spirit and helped me to hold on.

            Then there was the blessing of that simple thing known as a washcloth. Dozens of times gentle hands placed a cold washcloth on my brow, soothing my fretful mind. It was like medicine for my soul. It revived me when nothing else seemed to help.

            During my most apprehensive hours, another simple thing helped me. Men, and women, who loved me, held my hand. They did it to comfort me, to let me know I was not alone.

            I confess that I made no real effort to be “brave.” More than anything, I simply wanted to be real. And being real for me meant acknowledging that I was fearful. Yes, fearful, despite the confidence of my faith that my life is ultimately in the hands of my heavenly Father.

            I am sure that when it is my time to depart this life, I want to feel the grasp of my wife’s gentle hand as I breathe my last breath. If not her hand, then hopefully the strong hand of one of my sons, or another who has bonded with me in brotherly love.

            There linger memories of other experiences that are not as valuable as these I have mentioned.

             For a few days the doctors wanted me to stay in bed and move as little as possible. This made the use of a bedpan necessary. My nurses readily accepted the offer of my sons, Mark and Steve, to assist me with the bedpan.

            That, it turned out, was a moment to remember. By the time they managed to get me on the bedpan, there was so much of me in the bedpan that there was no room for anything else to go in it.

            My sons were dying with sidesplitting laughter as I begged for mercy. After a bit I joined in their convulsion, content that if I did die, at least I would die laughing. Finally the decision was made to forego the bedpan in favor of a bedside commode.

            We all concluded that bedpans and bedside commodes are made for small people, leaving people my size vulnerable to all kinds of accidents. I will leave further explanation to your imagination.

            At one point during my confinement, I decided that the clocks in the hospital were broken. Hours dragged mercilessly. I would look at the clock on the wall at 10:30 and an hour or so later look again, and discover that only five minutes had passed. When you are waiting for recovery and healing, or for relief from pain medicine, time seems to stand still.

            Nurses have a strange concept of “a good night’s sleep.”  They would tuck me in at 11 p.m. with the assurance that I would sleep well. Sleep had to occur, however, in spurts, for they checked my vital signs every two hours.

            Then, about 4:00 o’clock each morning, a nurse awoke me to draw blood for testing. One announced her presence with the cheerful greeting, “The vampire is here.” I understood, of course, that it was all done for my good.

            As I continue into my fourth week of recovery, many memories dance back and forth in my mind. Mostly I remember the good things and gladly allow the difficult experiences to fade away.

            More than anything, I am profoundly thankful for the compassionate care I received from people who made me feel they really cared about my welfare. Most were strangers at first, but after three weeks I was ready to adopt them all into my family.

            I wish there was some way I could make my caregivers understand how grateful I remain for all they did for me. Sure, it was their job to do what they did. But I realized that for most of them, their work was more than a job.

            That must be why nurse after nurse assured me that they were there because “this is where I belong.” As surely as people are “called” by God to be pastors and missionaries, my nurses were called by God to the ministry of nursing.

            Thanks be to God – for each and every one of them! + + + +