Day 2 - 40 Days of Hope for Healthcare Heroes

DAY 2

Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.

John 13:34

It was a year to remember: 1995—the year of Braveheart, blue M&M’s, the Oklahoma City bombing, Mariah Carey, and the Atlanta Braves. It was also the summer I watched, helpless, as a young gay man died alone of AIDS at age twenty-six.

Only two years younger than he was and fresh out of nursing school, I peered into Greg’s isolation room from the hall. Like many patients, Greg was alone in his room most of the day except when we came in to check his vital signs every four hours. With his hair mostly gone and his bones at harsh angles beneath the sheets, he lay on his side watching the traffic on the interstate outside his window.

I donned the yellow impermeable gown and pulled gloves on my hands, then put on the mask and face shield, all required at the time, despite the work of Ryan White and others to dispel the myths about transmission.

“How are you today, Greg?”

He did not reply, but kept staring out the window. I couldn’t blame him for being depressed. Not only was he dying, but he wasn’t allowed to see his partner, Brian, either.

I’d been in the room setting up his IV medications the week before, when he’d begged his parents to let Brian visit. I saw his mother wince and his father leave the room. Their decision was final, and in 1995 Greg and Brian didn’t have any rights.

Since then, Greg hadn’t spoken to anyone. As his primary nurse, I felt so helpless. What could I possibly do for him?

The idea came to me as I spread a new sheet and blanket over his legs. I rummaged around in the supply and linen rooms until I’d gathered everything I needed.

Back in the room, I filled a basin with soapy warm water, tossed in several washrags, and carried it to his bedside table. I gently lifted his legs, the skin a patchwork of purple and red Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions, and spread towels and impervious pads underneath them.

I pulled a stool up to the end of the bed. “Is it okay if I wash your feet?”

Greg looked away from the interstate and focused on me. The incredulity and gratitude in his eyes nearly rendered me too emotional to continue with what I’d set out to do for him. But wash his feet I did. With each washcloth, I wondered how long it had been since he had felt touch. I wondered when his parents stopped hugging him. I wondered how it felt to be a contemporary leper.

After his feet were washed, I gently massaged lotion into them, between his toes, around his ankles, and over his lower legs. By the time I finished, he had closed his eyes and fallen asleep. The hard, empty stare was replaced by a countenance relaxed and at peace.

And I knew I was not helpless after all.

BREAKROOM BOOST

As healthcare workers, we encounter the untouchable, unthinkable, and unimaginable every day. It’s so hard to know how to assuage the wounds of the heart that the deftest and most daring of surgeons could never reach. When all we have to give a patient is love, we can give it. When the chasm of loneliness appears too gaping to cross, we can use love to bridge it. When we are rushed and weary, we can draw on the peace and strength that passes understanding.

HANDWASHING PRAYER

Lord, friend and healer of lepers, help me to be the love my most marginalized patient needs. There’s so much anger and hatred in the world. Help me remember above all to love others, just as you have loved all the leper-like parts of me.

VITAL SIGNS

What were today’s fears, frustrations, and heartbreak?

EVIDENCE-BASED HOPE

What things are you grateful for and where have you seen God working this week?

From the Book: