Endure the Pain
What happens when we face the true test of our soul.
Each of us likes to consider ourselves to be brave. We daydream about moments of glory. What is glory? What is bravery? They are words. They are nothing but words. When the time comes to put your metal to the test, it will be actions rather than words that define you.
We called him Sarge. In his younger years he had been a Marine. Gone was his strength and vitality, yet his body remained well muscled and solid despite his advanced age. Now an elderly man in his seventies, Sarge faced his declining years in forgotten decay. He now lay in a coma on a bed in a nursing home. I was a nurse, and he was my patient. Although Sarge was not conscious, the side rails of his hospital bed were in the up position for safety. Every two hours we would turn him and wash him. His meals were given by syringe through a tube.
I was making my rounds to check on my patients. When I entered Sarge’s room I found him strangling. He must have awakened from his coma. It appeared that he attempted to get out of bed by moving to the bottom of it and climbing over the footboard. Somehow he managed to wedge his head between the footboard and the in the up position side rail. All of his weight was on his throat. His legs were outstretched on the floor. I could hear the raspiness as he struggled to breathe. There wasn’t any time to think. I immediately called for help while trying to free him. I placed one hand under each shoulder and lifted with all of the strength I could manage. He was heavy. There wasn’t much that I could do except take some pressure off of his neck so he could breathe a little easier. It was barely enough.
While holding him until help arrived I felt a burning sensation begin to form under my right shoulder blade. It was both hot like a coal burning through my flesh and sharp. The muscles of my back would be getting to tear from the strain of holding him. The burn traveled to the middle of my back is more muscles succumbed to the strain. The pain moved down the right side of my spine like a molten knife. I was faced with a decision. If I were to let go, the pain would stop. If I were to let go, Sarge would die. Most of the nurses I’ve spoken with over the years told me they would have let him go. They would have saved themselves at his expense. They would have let him die. I could not do that. The intensity of the searing pain caused my body to shake. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I refused to let go until there were enough people to free him. One by one nurses and other staff members raised into the room to help. It was only then that I released him. It took six male coworkers to lift him from that side rail.
That was more than twenty years ago. My back never recovered. I have limited mobility and frequent spasms that have at times dropped me to the floor. I live in pain every day. I sacrificed my body to save his life. It led to the end of my career. I am now medically retired and living on a disability pension. But if I could go back in time to that very day and do it all over again I would still hold on. I would endure the pain. What I did had no glory. What I did was not brave. What I did was nothing more than what one would expect from a nurse who took her responsibility seriously. Yet it was still for me a defining moment. It was my way of knowing the answer to that one question that we all ask ourselves. What would I do if…
About the author
My stories come in the form of vivid dreams. The challenge is putting them to words. I'm medically a retired navy veteran and nurse, world traveler, artist, lecturer, and past journal reviewer with 5 ferrets who keep me very entertained