I work in an intensive care unit and all types of patients walk through the doors: From the 14 year old neurologically impaired teenager to the 100- something year old patient in some form of heart distress requiring immediate intervention. As a nurse, the drama follows me and overtakes me and I am required to roll up my sleeves and surrender myself to the powerful hormones that surge through my blood vessels as seemingly dead patients are rolled through the double glass doors of the ICU. At this crucial hour of life and death, my whole being congeals into one purpose: To bring the dead back to life as doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists yell above each other and through each other, working hand in hand to help the vulnerable person come back to life. Most times, the conclusions to these dramatic events are happy stories. Families are reunited back to their loved ones as the resuscitative effort smacks of resounding success, Other times, the story doesn’t end happily and it is very hard for melancholy not to take over. I’ve been in this profession for a while now, but it’s still very painful to watch another human being loved by someone else die while you are trying to resuscitate them. It is not uncommon to see families huddled together in fear of the unknown as they watch their loved one lay helpless in the bed strapped to an alarm sounding ventilator, equipment as large as the room itself, with multiple chords and IV lines running all over the place. It is not unusual to see them lash out at Doctors and nurses in anger and frustration, because they are scared and they just don’t know how to express these overwhelming emotions that tell them to prepare for loss and sadness.
Yesterday, I cared for a 95 year old man. For privacy reasons, I choose to call him Sam. Sam had been married to his childhood sweetheart for 66 years till she passed away three years ago from a clot that travelled to her lungs (a condition known as pulmonary embolism, or PE). Her death was quick, and her husband, children, grandchildren, and yes, Great grandchildren were totally unprepared for it. She died at the good old age of 89. Up till her death, she and her husband had lived an active outdoor life. They loved hiking, bird watching, horse riding, and even mountain climbing. When Sam retired at age 65, they visited cities such as London, Paris, Rome, Nairobi, and Jerusalem. They had been healthy all their lives, Sam told me. So it was understandable for him to have felt terribly depressed after the sudden death of his wife. But with the love of his children, grandchildren and greats, he coped. Then something quite unexpected happened to him too. He was mowing the grass in his home (Yes, I did say mowing) when he felt a sudden tightness to his chest. The next thing he knew was that he couldn’t breathe. And before he could call out his own name, he found himself sprawled on the tall grass, wordlessly praying for help to come. His granddaughter found him in his impossible position some few minutes later. She called 911. That same day, Sam had to have an emergent cardiac bypass surgery to correct what had caused his heart attack. The surgeons who performed the surgery didn’t expect him to live through the surgery but guess what, Sam did recover.
It’s been three days since Sam’s surgery and I discovered yesterday that I was going to be his nurse. As soon as I walked into his room, his eyes met mine and I sensed warmth from those intelligent brown eyes of his. It was warmth that spoke of life, and a certain level of peace that one would not expect to find, especially in someone who had just had extensive major surgery. Unable to resist his positive magnetic pull, I clasped his hands in mine and blurted out my question without thinking.
“Tell me your secret to living this long.”
He smiled and replied with six simple words. “Love well, eat well, pray well.”
“That sounds like the title of a book that just recently came out,” I laughed.
He nodded his head. “And that’s my answer for you,” he replied with a genuine smile.
As I sit here typing these
few words, I realize that Sam is right. A happy life comes from eating well (since we are always the result of what we eat); and loving well (in this case, giving ourselves to others, not out of selfish reasons, but out of a deep desire to help someone else just as we would have wanted to be helped); and finally praying well, to an almighty God who owns the future and every other thing we cannot control …for they are all in his hands.
As we start another new working week, can I encourage you (and I) to take the advice a 95 year old man? I’m sure it works. And if you are the doubter, I dare you to experiment and see for yourself if it works or not.
From my heart to yours, have a triumphant week! Let’s truly make great things happen!