dsc_9617As a young, graduate nurse, I worked in a small  hospital, which meant I was required to work in many different areas of nursing, one of which was called “Medical-Surgical.”  Occasionally, we would have patients there long-term, until they either died, or could be moved to a nursing home.  We were also kind of  a “temporary resting place” for some who just needed a longer rehab period.

Caring for one man stands out in my mind, probably because I spent so much time with him.  He was a big guy who barely fit into the hospital bed.  I often wondered how tall he used to be, before the debilitating disease ravaged his once strong muscles.  If I remember correctly, he had been a Marine and fought in Vietnam, where he had been sprayed with agent orange.

When I was a carefree little girl growing up in small town America, blissfully ignorant of the war that was going on across the sea, this man was giving his all, and later in life, when our paths crossed,  I tended him as he finally gave his very “last full measure.”

I worked a lot of night shifts and I remember talking with him after taking care of his bodily needs.  He could no longer walk, and had lost his bathroom privileges.  I mean literally, he lost the ability, (which is quite a privilege,) and his condition  required we nurses to change his disposable underwear and catheterize him. Along with turning him, washing him, changing his hospital gown,  and scratching his back when ever the need arose, we spent a lot of time in his room.

You get to know someone when you come into such close contact.  Providing care for a giant of a man in such a forced dependent state, was humbling not only for him, but also for me, and I was honored to have cared for one who had so faithfully served our country.

I don’t recall hearing him ever complain, and bitterness never set in as far as I could see or hear.  He was always gracious, appreciative, and a pleasure to talk with in the wee hours of the night.  I’m sure he must have waged battles in his own mind, fighting off the human tendency for depression,  but I can only remember him as being sincerely cheerful, which must have required Super Natural Strength.

There were so many life lessons for a young nurse to learn  at the bedside of such a sacrificial individual.

My children never had the privilege of meeting my friend, the non complaining soldier, but I tell them about the strong man who is one of the thousands spoken of in this poem found in their third grade Abeka Spelling book:

You may call it an old piece of bunting,

You may call it an old tattered rag,

But thousands have died for its honor,

And shed their best blood for the flag.

You may call it an old piece of bunting,

You may call it an old tattered rag,

But Freedom has made it majestic,

And Time has enobled Our Flag.


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