- 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 III: Moses and the Technicians
His voice sounds almost like a song, deep and melodic. It’s an African accent I cannot quite place and he makes me guess his home country. He spots me western Africa, and after Cameroon and Togo I correctly guess Nigeria. He wears a mask in my room, like everyone must due to the high risk of infection, but his eyes are kind and happy, almost sparkling. I cannot imagine anyone meeting Moses and not immediately liking him. The smile that I can tell is hidden behind his blue mask is infectious, no less so because it’s invisible.
Moses spends the next hour scrubbing me from head to toe, and giving me a rough but satisfying shave, while I lay sprawled across my hospital bed. Three weeks ago I would have been embarrassed and a little humiliated lying naked on a bed while someone bathed me, but almost three weeks in, all sense of modesty has been stripped away. In this case, it’s my first bath since I arrived and I am so desperate to be clean I would probably have allowed an audience if need be. Besides, for the entire time I am here I am constantly poked and prodded and checked on by strangers in their ubiquitous blue, usually with my hospital gown either pulled up or pulled down, or taken away completely. I grow to think of the gown as basically a mini-skirt rather than bedclothes, and I am not allowed to wear pants or underwear, so there are lots of embarrassing moments for all of us. I shudder to think what my poor daughters may have witnessed.
Moses is like a West African Santa Claus, all lively and quick. And very jolly. He tells me about his recently deceased grandmother who had 11 children and 65 grandchildren. I can tell she was a very central figure in his life and that he respected and loved her a great deal. His 64 siblings and cousins live all over the world, he tells me. In Nigeria and the United States, plus Canada, England, and Japan. Even so scattered, family is important and they gather together as often as they can. Family is a major part of my life too, so we make a connection. He likes to cook, just to help his wife out, he says, and to play with his two young children. He assures me two is enough for him. He is quite content to let his grandmother keep the family’s record for most grandchildren. He keeps his house meticulously clean and neat he reveals, again claiming it’s just to help his wife. I do not really believe him. I sense he simply prefers his own housekeeping to his wife’s.
He’s certainly thorough with his work here. He even puts some sort of magical hat on my head – looks like a shower cap – that when he rubs on it, soap and warm water run out on the inside and I get my hair washed while lying in a bed! He is careful to dry off every inch of my wounded, tired body, even drying between each toe. He moves me to a chair and shows almost the same attention to detail while changing my bed linens as he did cleaning me. When a person is very sick, little things matter a lot, and by the time Moses leaves I am exhausted, but feel infinitely better not only physically, but mentally. It’s like a step towards being normal again.
Unfortunately, it is a short-lived feeling. As a result of my surgeries, I am retaining huge amounts of fluid in my body. At one point, my feet are so swollen the hospital does not have socks large enough to fit me. When they do decide it’s okay for me to wear pants under my miniskirt, they won’t fit over my giant legs, so I remain pantless. The concern with the fluid is what it might do to various organs, including the new heart, which is being forced to beat while basically floating in my chest. The good news is there’s a drug for that. It works wonders. In fact, I lose an incredible 57 pounds of fluid in ten days. I lose a little of that through blood loss, and a couple pounds more through the leakage of an odd orange fluid that oozes constantly from more than a dozen open wounds in my stomach, chest, and side. (My wife says I look like I lost a knife fight.) But the majority of the loss must come the old-fashioned way – urination. And that brings up the bad news. Though the drugs are incredibly effective, they give very little advance warning. I learn the hard way to act quickly, keeping an entire row of plastic cartons within reach since I am not allowed to go to the bathroom or even stand up without assistance. And now, only minutes after Moses has left me and my bed all shiny and clean, the urge hits and to my horror I see my row of cartons out of reach of my grasping fingertips. Panicked, I hit the nurse’s button, and Moses hurries back. But it’s too late.
I am embarrassed and ashamed and apologize repeatedly to Moses. He smiles through his mask and assures me it is all okay. That’s why he is here, he explains, and he repeatedly calls me “friend” while cleaning up my mess. Besides, he says reassuringly, that’s why we put pads under you, whether in the chair or in the bed. His charm and devotion to my care change a bad moment to a humorous one in the 15 minutes that it takes him to change my gown and sheets. He is going to school to become a pharmacist. I think that’s great and wish him well. But I also think what a loss it will be that this bright, kind, caring young man will be taken away from direct patient care. Either way, however, I know his grandmother was very proud of him, and would be even more so going forward if she had lived longer. She had set a wonderful example for him and he had had the wisdom to follow that example.
Moses was not the only of the technicians who made my 27 days in hospital bearable and at times even enjoyable. I am never sure exactly what a technician’s job is, but they are a sort of nurse’s assistant. In fact, a number of the ones who take care of me are already in nursing school, with plans to become nurses within the year. While I am in ICU, their main function is to clean me and to move me. Before I get my new heart, I am not even allowed to move around in the bed without assistance, so technicians must come to my room and grab me up to move me into various positions.
I hate the lack of independence and am embarrassed that these fine people have to spend so much time doing such simple things for me. I think they should be doing something more important for someone else. Each time they come, I apologize for bothering them and thank them profusely for all they do. But they cheerfully reassure me each time that they are more than happy to do whatever I need. Like Moses, they tell me it’s their job. That it is why they are here. They always smile. They are always so kind! One young man gets to know me so well that he begins to tell me even before I repeat my apology-gratitude refrain that it’s okay. He always calls me by name, and at one point I realize that each time he has to pick me up, or move me, or roll me over, he silently pats me on the back. It’s a small, but wonderful feeling. It reassures me, telling me it’s alright to be helpless for a little while because as long as I need to be taken care of, I will be. Same thing for the tiny, strikingly pretty young woman who helps with me my first shower, about a week after Moses’ “bath.” I think how most women her age would be appalled at such a job, but she is more than happy to help me. She even thoughtfully schedules my daily walk when my brother and mom visit so they can see how well I am doing. These courageous, selfless young men and women care about my care and offer me only their best, day after day, for 27 days. They have mastered empathy, such a powerful thing in any service to others.
What truly great people. I hope they all have proud grandmothers. And proud fathers and mothers and husbands and wives. They deserve it. I am proud to even have met them, and am the better for their care and unabashed concern for this sick stranger. To paraphrase Tiny Tim in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” God bless them every one!
Next – Part IV: The Indians
For other “Transplant Experience” stories in the 10-part series, go to: