Thursday, February 28, 2008

Simple acts of service

In my scrapbook of memories, I have one simple memory that is still very vivid. I was the primary nurse for a mom who was pregnant with multiple babies. She had been hospitalized for months while we tried to keep her pregnant long enough for her babies to have a chance of survival. At the end of her pregnancy she was so swollen that the skin on her legs looked like peeled grapes. The skin was paper thin and it weeped fluid like dew drops. She was absolutely miserable and yet absolutely dedicated to keeping her girls alive and healthy.

She delivered her babies and spent time in the Intensive Care Unit struggling for her life while her babies were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit struggling for their own. When she finally came back to me for postpartum care she was exhausted, pale, and still terribly swollen. The biggest effort for her that day was just to get out of bed and sit in a chair for 30 minutes.

I sat with her for awhile after I got her settled in the reclining chair. She was so vulnerable and so fragile. My heart ached for her. I asked her what I could do to help her feel better. I expected her to ask for pain medications, or medications to help with her overwhelming dizziness. Instead she asked me for one thing, “Can you please shave my legs?” She hadn’t been able to shower for days, and shaving her legs had stopped months before when her belly got too big to allow her to bend over. I looked at her swollen legs that had just stopped weeping fluid a day ago and wondered how in the world I was going to accomplish what she wanted. I thought about the risks associated with shaving such fragile skin. I knew I probably should refuse. But I also knew how important it was to help her heal emotionally and not just physically.

So I shaved her legs…very carefully. And a decade later we both have vivid memories of that day. She remembers how grateful she was to have clean shaven legs and how much better it made her feel. I remember how humbling it was to shave her legs and provide such a simple act of service.

I think that someday when I leave this world and go through my life review, I may not be able to say I spearheaded some huge global change for the better. But I do know that one of the greatest achievements in my life will be that I shaved this mother's legs.


AtYourCervix said...

I could only begin to imagine how grateful and wonderful she felt, to have you shave her legs for her.

After I had my gastric bypass surgery (not to compare too much, but this is the closest I can compare!) I wasn't able to bend to shave my legs for 2 weeks. When I finally could, it was like heaven on earth! It felt so luxurious, and wonderful, and made me feel instantly 110% better.

I'm sure that memory of you shaving her legs for her, will stay with her forever.

artillerywifecq said...

I shaved a friends legs one time before her husband came home for R&R from Iraq (she was i forget how far alone with twins and her belly was sooooo huge. I know how happy she was and how important such a simple thing can be, I can only imagine it 20X over for this woman. Its the little things that count and those little something extra that makes it all worth it.

Lisa b said...

It is acts of kindness like this that truly have the greatest effect on patients.

tz said...

What a great story, thanks so much for sharing it!

Working Girl said...

This story makes my heart sing.