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The Paths We Walk

Story ID:4423
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Story
Location:Oak Park IL USA
Year:1943
Person:Nancy Julien
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Note: A slightly different version of this story was published in MedHunters Journal last year. The story is true.

The Paths We Walk

It’s strange how certain memories of early childhood cling forever and remain crystal clear. One such memory helped to form the person I am today.

At age four, I was taken to the hospital to have my enlarged tonsils and adenoids removed. In 1943 people went to the hospital to either to have a baby or maybe get ready to die, but somehow our family doctor convinced my parents that I needed the surgery. They dutifully took me to the Chicago suburban hospital closest to our home.

I remember Mother’s heels clicking on the hospital corridor floor as we made our way, hand in hand, to the lab for a blood test. The blood was drawn from my earlobe, and when the technician jabbed me, I pulled back in fright. Blood spurted everywhere. She scolded me as she wiped the blood away. Still seated on a counter, I started to cry. The lady hurt me, and I didn’t know why, and then she yelled at me. Not a very good beginning to this hospital experience.

Off we went to the three-bed ward which was to be my home for the next three days. My mother left me soon after she had me settled in the big bed with new crayons and a coloring book. Before long my daddy appeared in the doorway. He told me stories, carried me to the window, and sang nursery rhymes until visiting hours were over. When he told me he had to go home, I cried. I held onto him, begged him not to go. He told me to be quiet so we wouldn’t disturb the boy in the next bed. It wouldn’t have mattered because the boy had what was then termed “sleeping sickness” and his eyes never opened.

A vision of pure loveliness appeared in the doorway as I cried and clung to my father. She wore a nurse’s uniform and cap, and her blonde hair appeared to be a halo around her head. Blue eyes twinkled, and she offered a soothing smile. “Honey,” she said,
“would you like to see the babies in the nursery?” Her words brought my tears to a rapid halt. I nodded and allowed my daddy to kiss me good-bye.

The blue-eyed nurse picked me up and carried me down a long hallway to the nursery. We spent what seemed a long time looking at all the newborn babies, swaddled and in their little beds. I had a baby brother at home, but these babies were so much more interesting, and so was my companion dressed in starched white. Finally, the nurse carried me back to my bed, tucked me in, and placed a kiss on my forehead.

I liked the ride to the operating room the next morning. Once there, someone with a mask over her face told me to count backwards from ten and I would soon be asleep. At four, I could barely count forwards, and I worried that they’d do the operation while I was still awake. They placed a cone over my nose and mouth and dripped ether into it, and before I knew it, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I lay in my hospital bed. My throat hurt, and my mother sat beside me. She smiled and brushed my long red curls to the side, then tried to feed me ice chips. The boy in the bed next to mine still slept, and his mother sat close by with a worried look on her broad face.

Before long, strange things started happening. A doctor and nurse hurried to my bed. Fear reigned at that moment. I didn’t know what had occurred, but my mother looked very upset. Years later, I learned that I’d hemorrhaged, and a private duty nurse took care of me that night. Sometime during the night, my blue-eyed, blonde nurse visited. She held my hand and spoke softly about the babies in the nursery. She coaxed me to eat some jello and held my hand until I fell asleep.

By the next day, all was well with me. No more bleeding. Mother arrived to bring me home. She helped me dress, and we passed quietly by the boy who slept on and his mother who still sat by his bedside.

I never forgot my special angel, the blue-eyed nurse who worked the early evening shift. The older I got the more determined I became to make nursing my mission in life. I wanted to help others as my blue-eyed angel in starched white had done. In high school, I learned that chemistry played a big part in nurse’s training. Science and math terrified me. I made it through those courses but only barely. Reality hit. Nurse’s training was not for me. My dream of helping children evaporated, until I realized that becoming a teacher would allow me to be of service to others, and I didn’t need to suffer through chemistry. I could still be like the nurse I remembered so clearly.

Even long after my teaching career ended, I continued to give service to others in the way of volunteer work at our local hospital, library, and school. A young blue-eyed nurse with a cloud of blonde hair and a heart that brimmed with love set me on that path more than sixty-five years ago. I never knew her name, but she is etched on my heart forever.