A Bathroom Reminiscence
We learn many things from our patients. No matter how brief the encounter may be, their lives touch us in many ways, sometimes in a very profound way. This is one such encounter where an elderly patient reduced me to a sobbing mess with his emotional story of his past during World War II.I love nursing.
No, I am not one of those who find self-worth through the notion of “helping others.” It’s actually the opposite, as I get helped by those I nurse whether they know it or not. Their vitality, their spirit, their dedication to living, replenish my otherwise colorless inner world.
So often people tell me, “Oncology! That must be so depressing!”
Only if they knew… I know what depressing is.
My work is anything but; fighting for one’s life, enduring the agony of brutal therapy with an unwavering hope, or the solemn moment of coming to terms with one’s mortality… That’s not depressing. It’s uplifting.
So I listen to them, lapping up whatever pieces of wisdom they offer, and the world seems a little brighter when I step out of the hospital.
But enough with meandering introduction.
I actually want to tell you a story of an elderly gentlemen whom I had the pleasure of taking care of for a few nights. We knew he was a holocaust survivor from reading his history. He was also one of those “pleasantly confused” patients, inducing smiles on everyone who came in contact with him. If you asked how he was doing, he would flash the brightest grin you have ever seen and declare with arms spread,
“Simply wonderful! Everyone’s so kind here! Thank you, thank you!”
If you gently reminded him to finish the apple sauce suspended in his hands forgotten, he would raise his eyebrows in surprise,
“Oh, I can eat this? How kind of you. Hmm mm… it’s delightful!”
On this particular night, I found myself squeezed inside the cramped bathroom holding his shoulder so that he will not tip forward while he sat on the toilet. I stood there, my idle hand rubbing his back, wishing his grunting effort will produce result soon. Suddenly, he looked up at me and asked,
“Do you know what this means?”
I looked down and saw the old tattoo on his arm – the mark of an unspeakable horror of the past. I nodded yes, feeling my heart thump at this sudden start of a conversation. He contemplated his arm for a bit longer, and with an unusual lucidity, he began his story:
“You know, life is a very precious thing. I do not take anything for granted, and I am so happy and appreciative for all the things I have. You know, I would not be here if it weren’t for my mother. She taught me everything.
I was just a boy when we were sent to the camp. It was horrible. Horrible. Do you know what a commandant is? I would never forget this commandant. He would put on his fancy, shiny uniform. He had two guns… one on each side. He would walk down the rows of prisoners…, and shoot as he walked… I was so scared of him.
After we were liberated, I was there at his trial. I still remember what he said. He said,
‘Yes, I killed them. But I do not regret it.’
Can you believe it? That’s what he said. Oh I was so angry… What did I know? I was only a boy. But my mother told me not to hate. My mother… she was an amazing woman. My brothers died in the camp. We lost everything. And yet, my mother taught me that there is no use hating.
You know what she did? She would always have candies with her when she went out and give them out to German children. I asked her why. She said,
‘Because children are innocent.’
Can you believe it? A woman who lost her own children! She had so much love, and she taught me how to live.
You know, life is so short. It is too short and precious to waste on hating. Be happy! Life is full of beautiful things if you look.”
Disclaimer: Just wanted to mention, there were more to his story but I am omitting all the possible descriptions that could potentially identify him. So it is impossible to convey the degree of outrage and awe that I felt at the time.Last edit by Joe V on Dec 3, '13
tokebi has '10' year(s) of experience. From 'California'; Joined Mar '10; Posts: 413; Likes: 865.3Dec 2, '13 by HeathermaizeyMy grandfather was a POW in Germany during that time. He was in the worst concentration camp there was. I can only imagine the suffering people went through over there. I say that because my grandfather who could have been bitter, never was. He appreciated his family and his life. He taught me how to work hard and how to love your family. To this day I miss him terribly.0Dec 2, '13 by tokebiQuote from HeathermaizeyYour grandfather sounds like an amazing person.My grandfather was a POW in Germany during that time. He was in the worst concentration camp there was. I can only imagine the suffering people went through over there. I say that because my grandfather who could have been bitter, never was. He appreciated his family and his life. He taught me how to work hard and how to love your family. To this day I miss him terribly.
I have a tremendous respect and admiration for those who have suffered at the hands of another human being, and yet do not give into hatred.6Dec 2, '13 by Kooky KorkyI needed this story so very much. My life has been difficult for some months now. I have suffered some very serious losses in the past couple of years. My faith in people is lower than dirt, not without some legitimate reasons, but it is not helpful to lose hope and let resentment, bitterness, and their companions fester and grow.
I wonder if the Mom giving candy to innocent kids after losing her own kids just had a different nature than mine or did she have to work at it? And the charming gent in the OP's post - I love patients like that and always wonder if it's their nature or their floundering minds or what?
Corrie ten Boom - I hope some of you know of her and all that she and her family suffered in Nazi Germany and how God kept her alive so she could be a Tramp for the Lord after the world, traveling to numerous countries to bring the Gospel until she grew old enough to need to stay in one spot (California - sunny Cal, Land of Dreams). If you've never read her writings and you need an uplift, visit the library, Amazon, etc. and treat yourself. you will come away heartened and so encouraged.0Dec 3, '13 by tokebiI am so sorry for the difficulties you're going through, Kooky Korky.
Quote from Kooky KorkyI could not agree more. My mantra for the longest time has been, "I will not grow old as a bitter person."but it is not helpful to lose hope and let resentment, bitterness, and their companions fester and grow.
I think people take either one of the two paths after an extreme suffering inflicted by others:
One, they're able to see and appreciate the goodness of the world and other people, precisely because they experienced the worst.
Two, they're stuck in the nightmare of their experience and despair. They lose hope in absolutely everything and everyone.
I have a deep-seated mistrust of people in general, and my mind tends to go for the option two above. That's why I love my job where I meet so many people who give me inspiration and help me see the "beauty" in the world.
Thank you for mentioning Corrie ten Boom. I haven't heard of her before. I will look into her book.2Dec 3, '13 by PudnluvWhat an amazing gentleman! How fortunate for you to have met him. It is people like this that make nursing so rewarding. Not only can we touch another person's life, but they can touch ours as well. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.