We never know who really comes into our care

angelangelIt was a cold January night in the small city hospital where I was the nursing supervisor pulling a 12-hour shift.

The wind was blowing, snow was falling and the ER was overrun with “frequent fliers” who had no where else to spend the night.

My pager was incessant – tele needed this; oncology was bucking the admission I had sent them; a psych patient in the ER needed restraints….you know the story.

Then ICU called to report a death.

It wasn’t sudden – the man suffered his way into eternity.

The family was, as was he, an orthodox Jew.

His wife was desirous of a full Jewish funeral within the next 24 hours so she could fly to Miami to sit Shiva.

I called the funeral home for the Orthodox and he came directly to the ER as I had asked him to do.

The family left and I placed an aide with the deceased so as not to leave him alone.

The surprise paper trail

Only after all of the paperwork, after leading the house physician through the on-line death certificate, after everyone had left, after this, after that – only then did the unknown truth come forth.

The man was a Holocaust survivor. He and his wife fled Hungary during the Nazi uprising, barely making it out with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

But they loved each other and that was all they had.

That was all they needed.

They fled to an allied nation and from there to the United States, coming through Ellis Island as refugees.

I was astounded as I paid my last respects to someone whose past had never been known but to him and his beloved.

They raised a family in New Jersey, worshipped at the local temple and were free from the horrors of the holocaust, at least on the surface.

“For we never know who they really are or were.”

Because no one knew, no one could have cared.

No one would ever know the living hell they went through then and the living hell he again passed through at death’s door.

The ICU staff was in a hurry to get him out – they had no use for the dead they had failed to save.

How callous are we, or at least am I, when someone falling under my care is a little “out of the ordinary”, stoic, non-communicative to the high and almighty level which somehow I feel I deserve…..how insensitive have I become?

I was no better than those who wanted him out of the unit, even though I had spent hours with the son and the funeral director over his arrangements.

I guess all of this to say: we never know who really comes into our care, do we?

We only know them for what is wrong with them, what the doctors should do differently to get them out of there.

Let us not lose our empathy, our ability to care deeply and to help the afflicted carry their burden.

For we never know who they really are or were.

We take care of living souls, ladies and gentlemen…..and sometimes we take care of dying ones, even dead ones.

Remember your calling and your frailty because some of us have entertained angels unaware.

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