- Real Estate
- Paris Flash
(EDITOR’S NOTE: In a 10-part series for eParisExtra readers, Paris City Manager John Godwin, who received a new heart on July 2, shares a series of short stories/character sketches about his transplant experiences – “doctors, nurses, drugs, my wife, a trainee priest, the night I got the new heart.” He returned to work on Aug. 19 for the first time since a near-fatal heart episode on June 14. Godwin, who has written three historical novels (Hope, 2004; Talisman, 2005; and Of Blood & Faith, 2010), wrote the 10 stories in July and August “while home bored with a laptop.”)
Part II: Hard Beauty
Blonde hair, blue eyes, golden tan. She is a strikingly pretty young woman. If she does not have a steady boyfriend or a husband, it’s because she does not want one, or does not have time for one. She makes me think of Florida, where I lived for six years. Golden somehow. It turns out she is golden in more ways than one. She’s a stellar nurse. Pretty, but tough as nails. A graduate of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where my youngest daughter is starting school as an incoming freshman, she is mission and excellence driven, and it shows from the moment we meet her.
Connected to two life-sustaining devices, I am miserable much of the time. I am not allowed to get out of bed, or even move much, for days on end. I get sore and my back hurts, and I find it increasingly difficult to get comfortable. My spirits wane. The nurses watch me very carefully, lest I pull something loose. They have been warned by the surgeon that I am in a very precarious position, and excessive movement of the wrong kind could be extremely dangerous, perhaps even fatal. Predictably they take the conservative approach and keep me as still as they can. If they catch me moving in what might be in any way construed as bad, they scold me and straighten me back out on the bed, usually three of them picking me up bodily to place me where and how they think I need to be. One nurse tells me how I can bleed out if I simply lean or reach too far.
After a couple of weeks they tell me I will get to move to a chair about two feet away. That’s not much, but it sounds good to me. Something different anyway. Unfortunately, it’s not a real chair, but more of a torture device. The bed is lowered almost to the floor, a cot-looking contraption is pulled alongside, and three young men and a woman slide me onto it. By cranking a handle, the cot is raised off the floor and through more machinations it becomes chair-like and I find myself sitting up. Very straight up. I am tied in place because I am still not allowed to move for fear it might kill me. For the first few minutes, I like it. I am sitting up and it feels like an improvement simply because I have been deemed healthy enough to get out of the bed, even if only barely. I know it’s good for my muscles and respiration too, which is why they tell me I will need to sit in this “chair” for at least two hours every day.
The problem is that the seat is the most uncomfortable device for seating ever invented. Within minutes I hurt all over, especially my lower back which has for many years suffered from a vicious combination of two bulging disks, arthritis and stenosis. I was told many years ago that middle age had combined with too many contact sports as a young man to ruin my back. Now, if I were a spy, I would tell them all my secrets to get out of this chair. If I were an accused criminal, I would gladly confess to anything they wanted if they would only free me of this pain. But no words I say can help. Two hours. Every day. It’s good for you. I try to explain I am not a whiner. The pain is real and serious. The responses do not change. Two hours. Every day. It’s good for you. If the Nazis had had such a chair in World War II they would have had no Resistance movement to contend with. No one would have dared risk having to sit here for two hours every day simply to oppose the Nazi domination of Europe.
And then something changes all that. This new nurse appears. The one who makes me think of Florida. She is on a mission, and that mission is to destroy her sworn enemies. Those enemies? Disease, suffering, complacency. She loathes them and seeks them out like a starving bloodhound searching for a morsel of food. She does not like what she sees in my room. She does not like seeing her patient – and I belong to her now – strapped to a chair in obvious agony. She’s gotten her orders and knows well what she is supposed to do. But that’s not good enough. She looks into my eyes and tells me very matter-of-factly that this will not stand. I do not need to be strapped down like this, she says. They tell me I could die if I move too much, I respond. She tells me to let her take care of that, a tiny bit of disgust in her voice.
When I see her again, she tells me she is moving me to a real chair. It’s a recliner even. I can sit up straight or lean back or do both. I can eat my meals there and I can get myself out of the bed, with her assistance, and take the three steps required to cover the distance. I ask if she’s sure. Without hesitation she is very sure. She has gone directly to the surgeon and demanded that he explain his instructions. He tells her why he wants my movements so limited and what could happen. She listens, I suspect not so politely, and then tells him she thinks he is wrong. Did you sew everything back together correctly, she challenges him. He acknowledges that he did. Then I am getting him out of that bed and on his feet and into a real chair because he’s miserable for no good reason. The surgeon, by all accounts both brilliant and talented, nods his head and assents. Okay. You’re in charge, he tells her. He’s your patient.
Until I get a new heart, this is by far the best day at the hospital for me. It not only takes away the pain, but helps me feel like independence and free movement are something I can begin to look forward to. It makes me believe I am getting better. The golden nurse did not have to say anything or do anything different from all the others, but she made a choice to do so, even directly challenging her superior. She confides to me that the surgeon had scared one of my nurses so badly she was constantly afraid she might accidentally kill me. But the golden nurse hates complacency and suffering, and I see she loathes mindless adherence to the “rules.” To achieve her mission, to provide not just good care but to give me the very best possible care, she is willing to challenge authority and take personal responsibility. She explains that each nurse has only one patient in ICU. If they are doing anything but taking care of that one patient the best they possibly can, they are failing at their jobs. And this one is no failure.
Most people are surprised at how much I, as a man who has made his living for 28 years as a career bureaucrat, hate bureaucracy. The mindlessness, the complacency, the facelessness, the reliance on the rules and instructions from those above you, the squelching of creativity all make me want to scream some days. While recuperating from my surgeries, I read a lot. A tragic story I run across is one of a squadron of U.S. Navy destroyers sailing down the California coast, all in a single line, one following the other. The first destroyer runs too close to the shore and crashes onto dangerous rocks. Stuck there, the waves crush it and it sinks. A horrible tragedy. But what’s worse is most of the skippers of the other destroyers, following their orders to the letter, stay in perfect line and run their ships into the rocks too! Of the 14 ships, nine are wrecked, seven sink, and over 700 sailors die. It is the worst loss of life in the Navy’s history until Pearl Harbor.
People like to say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They seem to say that a lot to me especially, because I like change. I like tinkering and improving, setting goals and trying to make things better. I want to encourage innovation and what we call “thinking outside the box.” I value creativity and people who challenge the rules and norms and the standard way of doing things. I don’t want people who cannot see their way well enough not to crash on the rocks. I prefer being a coach to being a director. My way scares some people. Worries them somehow.
But horses and wagons weren’t “broke” when they invented the train and the automobile. Telegraphs were not “broke” when they invented the telephone, nor when they made all the amazing improvements since Alexander Graham Bell’s day. Snail mail was not “broke” when they invented email. Wooden benches and stick chairs were not “broke” either, but someone still invented the rocker recliner! Thank goodness everyone does not listen to the timid majority who says good is good enough, and believes the way to success is to keep doing the same things the same way. Thank goodness for my nurse’s willingness to challenge the status quo. Every other nurse and technician I meet takes good care of me too, meeting all my needs. Most of them provide me very good care, in fact, and I value all they do for me, and always will. But what sets this one nurse apart is that good is not good enough for her. She asks why, and thinks beyond what she is told is even possible, and because of that she goes beyond good and even very good. She achieves greatness.
Next — Part III: Moses and the Technicians
For other “Transplant Experience” stories in the 10-part series, go to: