- 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 IV: The Indians
I turn the handle and warm water pulses out of the shower head. I lean into the glorious water and allow it to strike my head and chest. The water awakens long-sleeping nerve endings and washes away weeks of accumulated grime and dead skin cells. My entire body responds to the stimulation, but at the same time my tense shoulders slump and my body relaxes uncontrollably. It’s my first shower in almost a month. I am six days out from a successful heart transplant and am so excited to get my first shower I find myself fantasizing about it. About how good it will feel. I may stay in there all morning. I glance at the clock. It’s only 9:00 and the shower is not scheduled to begin until 10:00. So far it exists only in my daydream. The reality is still an hour away. But then my nurse ruins it for me.
You cannot take a shower by yourself. Sara will help you. You cannot stand up in the shower. You will sit in a chair. You cannot stay in there more than a few minutes. It will be too difficult, too tiring. I want to argue with her, but she has been my nurse for a few days now and we have come to know each other pretty well. We both know she is in charge, and we both know she is extremely dedicated to my care. We also know she is very good at what she does and is quite good at separating what I want and what I need. In this event, she is right about the shower, too. Even sitting in the chair, I am quickly exhausted. I cannot wash my feet or legs, so the technician has to help.
I am not so sure about her at first. She is businesslike and efficient, but perhaps too much so. Too impersonal. I am used to interacting with my nurses, talking and laughing. This one seems more like a mechanic, precise and thorough, but not much on personality. This is in sharp contrast to yesterday’s nurse. Both are natives of India, but yesterday’s nurse was loud and friendly, interested in me and my family. I learn she received her medical training as a reserve lieutenant in the Indian army, and she tells me something of her native country.
But before I know it, I bond with this latest nurse. She is meticulous with my care and, like with the shower, she always knows what I need and what is best for me. We talk about our spouses and kids, and where we grew up. We both came from rural areas, she in her native India, and me in deep East Texas. She tells me about India and holidays there, about her nursing school, and about how the monsoons have gotten so much worse in her home province than they ever were before. I explain to her what a city manager is and does. Like most Americans, she thinks mayors are paid positions who run cities. She is jealous of my two horses. Having horses is something she says she will talk to her husband about one day. She tells me about her 6-year old son who wants to come to work with her and help hand out pills. When I am able to walk unaided, I tell her if they do not let me go home soon, I will be her helper and hand out the pills. Anything to get out of this room. They send me home, however, on her day off. No goodbye for the nurse I came to think of almost as an older, wiser sister – even though she is quite a lot younger than me. I later realize I never even saw her without a mask on and might not recognize her if I saw her. What a shame. What a fine nurse and fine person.
She is just the last in a line of fine nurses, though. UT Southwestern is full of them. What a noble profession. Such a fine calling. My oldest daughter is so impressed and inspired, she registers to begin nursing school this fall. Another Indian native is another favorite nurse, and one who has a big impact on my eventual recovery. The last nurse helps me post-transplant to get ready to go home. This nurse is tasked with getting me well enough to be able to even have the transplant. Without her hard work and assiduous attention to every detail of my care, I would never have met the last nurse, might still be in the hospital – or maybe worse. Nurses are that important.
I do not know how to pronounce this one’s name. She tells me and even spells it for me when I first meet her. But my brain is still loopy and it seems everyone pronounces it differently, so I get to the point I do not want to call her by name for fear of mispronouncing it. My family name is mispronounced more often than not. That being a pet peeve of mine, I do not want to be guilty of doing the same thing with her. I do not want to use the fact she is Indian as an excuse to butcher her name. Especially because she is so good to me.
She gets me as her patient shortly after I wake up from more than four days of unconsciousness that followed an almost 10-hour heart surgery. I am heavily drugged, uncomfortable, weak, confused, and extremely paranoid. Her mission is to get me well enough for a heart transplant. My mind goes back to my rural roots and I think she is treating me like a prize animal she must hurry and get ready for auction at the fair. And I am okay with that. I was not in the FFA in high school, but many of my friends were and I know those bulls, cows, pigs, and sheep were treated like Hollywood celebrities. So we share this mission – get me fat and sleek and healthy so that the judges will be impressed with me and I will win the blue ribbon. In my case, of course, a blue ribbon does not mean being sold off by the pound, but receiving a new heart and getting to go home.
Every single thing I do, she watches like a hawk. Or maybe more like a stern, but kindly mother. She encourages me to behave around the doctors and actually tells me to sit up straight. She monitors the numbers of, and length of time spent with, visitors. You really love your family, she observes quite correctly. You enjoy them; you all talk so much and laugh together. But they tire you out. We have to get you well so you can later spend all the time you want with them. So we have a couple of days with minimal visitors, which was just what I needed. She tries to reassure me through my paranoia, too. Everyone here has one interest only, she promises, and that is to get you better. In an effort to help me stop losing weight, she personally feeds me by hand, seasons my food to try to make it more appetizing, and delivers extra reports to my doctors to try to find ways to make me stronger.
After a few days, I tell her, quite correctly I believe, that she may be the person who saves my life. She asks if I have faith in God. He is the one who saves lives, she says. I agree, but remind her that we all have our roles to play. She smiles and nods. She tells me about her church. She is going to India soon on a four-week vacation and while there hopes to buy equipment for the church’s kitchen. They cook and sell Indian food as some sort of fund-raising effort to help local kids. Unfortunately, she starts on her vacation before I am ready to lose her. Yet even on her day off when her vacation is supposed to have started, she stops in to check on me one last time and to tell me goodbye.
I hope she knows I made it. I hope she knows I got the new heart, and am doing well. I hope she knows too what a vital role she played in getting me well enough to get one, and strong enough mentally and physically to make the July 2 transplant almost a minor surgery and my recovery about half as long as typical. Do I give my nurses – the ones from India and a dozen other outstanding women and men of all shapes, ages, sizes, and nationalities – too much credit? I do not think that’s even possible. They are an invaluable part of the overall team, and an invaluable part of saving my life and getting me back home to my family. I cannot, and will not, ever be able to adequately express my deep gratitude and great respect for these nurses. Everyone should hug a nurse today and tell him or her thank you. They are among our very best and what they do for other people is magnificent.
Next — Part V: The Doctors
For other “Transplant Experience” stories in the 10-part series, go to: