Archive for May, 2012

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Nurse

May 31, 2012

I am not a nurse. But I do know quite a bit about the life of a nurse, for I am married to one. Not just any one, but a very special one, in my opinion. And that one is Bernadette.

Bernadette’s journey in this nurse’s life has been a long one, forty years long, to be exact. It was the summer of 1972 that Bernadette entered the world of NYU as a staff nurse, at first in urology — which lasted for two weeks — and then in pediatrics, which lasted the remainder of her career. Many of her recent colleagues had not even entered the world yet.

Quite a bit has happened in these past 40 years. There have been eight presidents and four wars. Elvis Presley died. Justin Beiber was born. Gone are the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall, the eight track tape, and disco. We since have gotten home computers, smart phones, Facebook, and Twitter.

The nurse’s life can take up quite a lot of one’s time, as those who are involved in it well know. I spent many an hour waiting for Bernadette to come home, at first outside Penn Station in Newark in the days before cell phones where I’d park myself at what I assumed would be the appointed hour and then mark papers until she arrived. I probably could have written the great American novel in the time that I waited there. Advances in communication technology eased this process as did the advent of the Midtown Express, but since I knew that Bernadette was delayed in the course of doing this most valuable vocation, it was but a small sacrifice to make.

I also have seen the effects of the many extra hours and late arrivals home, of working nights and weekends and holidays, of the constant stress of what is surely one of the most difficult and unappreciated jobs in the world. I have witnessed the many tears that have fallen over children who have suffered and died and their parents who had to bear this inconceivable burden. I have felt the sorrow and the pain of personal losses over the years that befell staff members. And through it all, I saw Bernadette’s faith and inner strength emerge to help deal with each crisis as it arose.

I am not alone in recognizing this. I have saved the many cards and notes from parents Bernadette aided in their time of need and nurses who worked alongside her. Though I am in awe of the great impact she has made, I am not surprised, for this is who she is. She has been called devoted, compassionate, understanding, selfless, and kind. She has been thanked for her encouragement, advice, fairness, support, guidance, and inspiration. Many have learned from her, vented to her, cried with her, and most of all shared in the love and passion which arise from this noble endeavor. I believe Bernadette has touched the hearts of more people than she will ever know.

So here we are at what many characterize as the end of a chapter. In actuality, it was many chapters with a constantly changing cast of characters and multiple plots with unpredictable twists and turns and not one single climax and resolution but innumerable ones, some joyful and some tragic. However, there was but a single theme, that of helping others in whatever way help could be given. And there is also a moral to the story: inherent in this impossible job is its own reward, the seeds sown through the caring for and nurturing of others in their worst of times that blossom in heartfelt gratitude, sometimes unexpressed and often out of sight, but there nonetheless. And despite the many pitfalls and hardships, the memories of care and kindness given will be carried in grateful hearts forever, and that is as it should be.

Yes, I know well this caring and nurturing and deep compassion, for I have not only seen it in Bernadette’s life as a nurse but experience it every day of our lives together. For that I am blessed, and I truly believe that is also so for the unit to which Bernadette has so tirelessly devoted her time and energy and body and soul all these years. Albert Einstein said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Those who know Bernadette also know this is so.

It has been said that the best journeys answer questions that in the beginning you didn’t even think to ask. I think Bernadette’s now ending journey as a nurse confirms this. And though this journey may be over, a new one shall begin with other unasked questions waiting in the wings. I am glad that I shall accompany her on this one where we will get to seek the answers together.

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Medals

May 27, 2012

They were in his top dresser drawer

in the painted wooden box

where they had always been.

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As a child, they were playthings,

the multicolored ribbons,

brass in the shape of stars and eagles,

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exotic, though without real meaning,

stories of war more from comics

than from life.

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When I emptied the house

of its artifacts and memories,

I sat with them  before me,

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ribbons faded, brass tarnished,

longing to touch

what I no longer could.

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I put them in a cardboard box,

carried them out,

closed the trunk.