As a part of the 50th anniversary of the BYU College of Nursing, a book was compiled called “The Healer’s Art: 50 stories for 50 years.” It has been 15 years since this book was first published and these stories were shared. We plan to regularly post selections from this book to help each of us remember and cherish the experiences of nursing and learning the Healer’s art.
We often think of the nurse who has The Healer’s Art, but on this particular day, it was two patients that touched my heart. Three years ago, my life plan took a dramatic change. I was a football player for Brigham Young University, a nationally ranked division I team. Like many players, I had the dream of playing in the National Football League. During my sophomore year I suffered an injury that caused two herniated discs in my lower back and ended my career as a football player. Not only was my dream cut short, it was completely obliterated. Despite this unfortunate event, I was a firm believer that other doors will open when one closes.
I had a close friend who encouraged me to go into nursing. I courageously, and with an extreme alteration to my ego, acted upon his advice! I applied to and was accepted into the nursing program at BYU.
After about half a year in the program I was going into the clinical rotation that I dreaded most: Labor and delivery. This is where my story begins. You see, I’m six-foot-three, male, muscular, African American, and bald (by choice). Sometimes I see myself in the mirror and I get scared! I was terrified that the patients and other nurses would be so afraid of me, they would ask me to leave the room or wait outside the door during my time there. Most of all I thought, “How am I, a man, going to offer encouragement and support to a woman when I have no clue what it is like to be pregnant and in labor?” I thought my whole time there was going to be miserable and a waste of time.
Ironically, this turned out not to be the case at all; it turned out to be one of my most memorable rotations as a nursing student. It was during this rotation that I had an experience that would expand my perspective and outlook on life, for it was this experience that taught me what the Healer’s Art is all about.
On this particular day, I was assigned to work with a nurse who would be helping a mother and her family recover physically and spiritually after giving birth to a stillborn that morning. When we walked in the room to introduce ourselves, a Catholic priest was there giving the baby a blessing. The baby was in the arms of a young boy who was lying down asleep on a bed. I later learned that this young boy had cried himself to sleep with his baby brother in his arms. The room was dark and smelled of blood and body fluids. The father was in the bathroom.
We learned from the night shift nurse that the father had passed out when the baby was born. The mother was lying in bed with the underlying sheets covered in blood. She was sad, disappointed, and confused. This would have been her eighth child. She was diagnosed with chronic hypertension and had had poor prenatal care. The baby had apparently been dead for a month because upon her admission to the hospital she reported no fetal movement for about this length of time.
Finally, the priest left the room and then the nurse also left to get a consent form to have an autopsy performed, so it was me alone with this family. I sat beside the father as he held his baby boy in his arms. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything at all; I just put my hands on his shoulder. The nurse returned to the room with the consent form. The father then asked me if I could hold the baby while he signed the papers. It was a moment in time that I will never forget. There was not the usual movement, crying, or opening of the mouth and eyes. There was blood around the baby’s mouth, eyes, and on his head. Vernix was still around his arms and legs. A million thoughts rushed in my mind. I thought about what this little boy’s spirit would have been like. I thought about all the fun things he would miss out on in life, like learning how to throw a baseball or ride a bike or his first kiss.
The nurse and I finished helping this family. We switched the mother to another bed. We took the baby to the morgue. I learned all about the process and the extended amount of paper work that must be done in these terrible situations.
Later that day as I was sitting at the nurses station watching the fetal monitor of a new patient, one of the nurses walked by with a newborn and asked me if I would hold the baby while she finished getting a few things together. As I held this live and active newborn in my arms, I thought about my earlier experience. I could feel the heartbeat of this new baby boy I was now holding. He opened his mouth wide and moved his arms and body. I couldn’t help but smile and feel love for this precious gift of life. My troubled heart was becoming mended.
The first time I held a baby in Labor and delivery was when I held the stillborn. The second time was later that day when I held the live newborn. In just one day I saw and felt the whole spectrum of the good and bad in Labor and delivery.
You see, most of the time we think of the nurse as the one who has The Healer’s Art, but on this day it was these two tiny little babies that opened my heart and touched it forever. Who knows, maybe it was part of this little stillborn’s mission to come to earth and touch my life. I will never forget him. He will always remain close to my heart. Wow, the children—no wonder Jesus loved them so much. Theirs is truly the kingdom of Heaven.