Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Nurse's Kindness

The compassion and kindness a nurse showed me long ago still brings tears to my eyes. I think she saw me as she saw her two teenage daughters, and she mothered me at a time when I was completely alone.

One day before my 17th birthday, just before 6:00 am, my three sisters, mother and I were in a head-on highway collision on I-90 passing through Butte, Montana. I awoke in the wreckage in a daze. I recall my family through a haze after impact and before the ambulance arrived. In my next memory flash I’m in the ambulance holding my three-year-old sister. I rocked her in my lap as she cried, and we held the baby quilt our mom made for her up to her face. The quilt was quickly saturated in blood from her severed chin.  My sweet little sister stopped crying long enough to ask me to stop rocking her. Later I learned she not only had a gashed chin and lost teeth, she had a broken jaw and severely broken leg. Rocking her hurt her, and it broke me to see how trying to comfort her and myself caused her more pain. She sat in my lap in the ambulance, and I remember hearing people shouting and the mechanical grinding of the rescuers using the jaws of life on the car to extricate my eldest sister. 

At the mercifully nearby emergency trauma center, I lie on a gurney in the emergency room while I hear urgent care professionals ask my mother questions on the adjacent stretcher. She’s confused and concerned for her daughters.

My three sisters and mother were admitted to the hospital and taken to the Intensive Care Unit while I was not. At the hospital, they took some x-rays of my head and ribs, gave me a few stitches on my cheek and released me. At that time, I used my mom’s phone calling card and her beat up blue address book to call people and tell them we’d been in a bad car accident. Over the next few hours I practically learned what I remember as a 16-digit calling card number by heart. I used the pay phone to dial anyone that I thought needed to know or could help. I called my father first, then my grandfather, and then the rest of our family and friends. Once I’d perfected the script, I was done and returned to the waiting room.

The head nurse at the hospital took charge and told me I needed to get some rest. She offered to take me to her nearby home. This nurse put her two daughters in charge of tending to me and went back to the hospital. Her daughters gave me lunch, clothes to wear and a bed to nap while they washed my clothes. I slept a few hours and woke feeling embarrassed by my vulnerability.  Their absolute kindness was humbling and unnerving. Thankfully I went along with it and accepted their generosity. I don’t recall if I thanked them, but I’m positive that I didn’t thank them sufficiently considering how grateful I was for their kindness.

By evening my father had flown in and gotten a hotel room for us to stay while our four family members stayed in ICU for a week. I spent much of the next few days talking to law enforcement describing what I remembered and moving from room to room to sit with my sisters and mother.  None of them were responsive to my presence for a while. They only communicated when they were in pain or were resisting care. Within the week I went to the scrap yard where our car had been towed, and I cleaned out our personal belongings. We’d been on a road trip, and we had lots of loose items in the car. What surprised me beyond the severe wreckage was that our shoes were strewn about the vehicle. The impact of the collision had removed our lace-tied sneakers from our feet.

The morning after the accident I remember waking to a large bouquet of flowers next to my bed. My father asked what the flowers were for, and as I read the card I said, “They’re for my birthday.”

The hospital head nurse, this woman whose name I still don’t know, tended to me when I was all alone, and she made sure my birthday wasn’t forgotten.  That was the only mention of my birthday that year, and it was gift from a complete stranger.

I know nurses regularly care for people in their line of work, and I’m extremely grateful that people are willing to work in trauma centers where they see tragedy daily. What still touches my heart are the gifts nurses give beyond the line of duty. On my 17th birthday, the hospital head nurse went above and beyond her job description to show me kindness on one of the worst days of my life. I’m forever indebted to her humanity.

**Check out Happy It's Not Worse. Seriously and Sincerely for more on how this accident helped shape my perspective.


  1. I can't imagine how difficult that must have been for you, especially at such a young age. I've always felt your love in comforting me through the toughest times, and even then, I knew you were just trying to make me feel better. Love you!