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My middle daughter discovered baseball and the Texas Rangers a number of years ago. I am a fan too, though I argue games should be shortened to 7 innings. My attention span is too short to sit still for 3 h of anything. There’s something wonderful about a Ranger game with the family though, and when the 3 daughters were young, we established a tradition of getting lemon chills at the end of every seventh inning. Tonight is no exception. At the end of the seventh inning, out come the lemon chills. Baseball with my daughter. Rangers on top. Warm summer evening. Life is good. Life is very, very good. Except for one minor detail. We are not at the ballpark.
The entire game plays out on the television in my intensive care unit room. I am very, very sick and, due to a catastrophic heart attack, not expected to survive. But my daughter is here, and the Rangers are here, so it’s okay. And the lemon chills? Shay, a young father of 6, is my nurse for the weekend. And Shay gets it. Shay is a caregiver. Shay is greatness. He sees a family in distress and he cares. Cares enough to slip into the hospital kitchen after hours, sneak out a couple of lemon chills, and turn a tough night, perhaps our last night together, into a wonderful memory. He sees and, if necessary, even senses needs. Then he takes care of them. No questions. No worrying if it is his job or not (I am pretty certain after-hours lemon chills are not his job, in fact). He just takes care of things. Correction: he takes care of people. He takes care of me and my daughter in a time of crisis. He is greatness.
Despite the great care I get from Shay and a whole host of other wonderful nurses, doctors, technicians, and countless others, I continue to deteriorate. I am placed on the transplant list for a new heart, but there is quite a lot of doubt whether I will survive long enough to get the call. I am tired and beaten down. I survived a 10-hour surgery, but I am alive only because of the left ventricular assist device and right ventricular assist device and a roomful of medical equipment. Physically I am an empty husk. My lungs, liver, and kidneys, starved for oxygen, begin to shut down too. I am dying.
But then something changes all that. A new nurse, Jenna, appears. This one is on a mission, a mission to destroy her 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 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. I do not know it then, but like Stacy, she sees death in my eyes. I am starting to give up. I don’t mean to, but I am. Stacy later describes it as seeing my spirit going out of me a little at a time.
When I see the nurse 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 3 steps required to cover the distance. Incredulous, I ask if she’s sure. Without hesitation she is very sure. She has gone directly to my surgeon and demanded that he explain his instructions. He tells her why he wants my movements so limited and what could happen. She listens 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. I hesitate, but I cannot help but trust her. She offers me hope when I had none.
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 movement are something I can begin to look forward to. It makes me believe I am getting better. Jenna did not have to say anything or do anything different from all the others before her, 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 lived in fear of accidentally killing me. But Jenna hates complacency and suffering, and I see she also 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 1 patient in the intensive care unit. If they are doing anything other than taking care of that 1 patient the best they possibly can, they are failing at their jobs. And this one is no failure.
I hate mindless bureaucracy in any walk of life. 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. People like to say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They seem to say that a lot to me, 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. 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 with incredibly good care, in fact, and I value all they do for me and always will. But what sets Jenna 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. Before I met her, I was dying; after she took care of me, I was living. She is greatness!
Please note: Mr. Godwin has reported that he has no relationships relevant to the contents of this paper to disclose.
- 2018 American College of Cardiology Foundation