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Patient Suzy Conway was frightened the night she needed emergency surgery, but compassionate nurses and staff so moved her, she penned a story about her experience.

Chapter One

FLORITA VALLEY ON 3 SOUTH


“Hi Suzy, I’m Florita. I get to be your nurse today.”

Not “I am” your nurse, “I get” to be your nurse. This is how I met an angel the morning of my surgery. She cracked the door open and peered in at me with a beatific smile on her face and with that, I melted. 11 words and I was in tears. Why? Because I was steeling myself for surgery and Florita’s greeting completely disarmed me. There was no need to be steely or strong. All it does is make you impenetrable and feel emotionally alone. I held my arms out to her for a hug and she walked straight into them, asking me what the tears were about. I admitted I was afraid.

“Of course, you’re afraid Suzy, you’re about to have surgery. I’d be afraid too. You can cry all you want. I’ll sit here and cry with you.” 

Within seconds we were laughing. Fear evaporated into the joy of connection. Her healing company was all it took for me to travel from my head back into my heart. I don’t have the Pulitzer Prize winning words to convey the comfort she was to me the second I met her. She kept her wing over me until I was wheeled to the OR and by then I was ready and relaxed. Florita said she would see me soon and promised me the nurses in the OR would take good care of me. It was hard to say goodbye to this darling. I wanted to Velcro her to my bed.

When I returned to my room, she was there as promised, her kindness on full display. Florita’s sense of humor, her presence and capacity to empathize assuaged the shock of having emergency surgery. Instead of it being a traumatic ordeal, I had a veritable picnic. It dawned on me the profound gift I was given and remembered a line from long ago:

“An injury is not a process of recovery; it is a process of discovery.”

I thought I came to the hospital for surgery only to discover I came to experience the power of love and to give it. I don’t recall the moment it became crystal clear, but I recognized it as true.

Florita told me there were two things I’d have to accomplish before I could leave the hospital: walk and eat. I strolled the halls with a friend and downed some broth and cereal Florita had helped me order.  She instructed me about the pain pills, how to reawaken my gut, and to call in if I had any questions. We had a ball reading the discharge papers together especially the part about not making any big decisions while on pain meds. I said, “Does this mean I can’t accept marriage proposals?”  She laughed, “Yes, Suzy, that’s exactly what it means.”

When I was released, it was a wrench to say goodbye to Florita. I’ve had surgery at Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota, my hometown, and at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, two of the best medical centers in the world. I received great care at both, but no one remotely matched Florita in character, nursing skills, capacity to empathize and quality of compassionate care.

Emerson said,

“If one soul breathed easier because you lived, this is to have succeeded.”

Florita can fold it right now. This soul not only breathed easier, I breathed, period. Her loving kindness, sensitivity, and caring heart are the hallmarks of a living breathing angel amongst us.

Think about putting Florita’s face on a billboard along HWY 34, representing Good Sam.  She is a cove and a harbor. I was lucky to sail into her like a little boat needing safety in the storm.

Welcome to 3 South, Suzy.  Welcome to Floritaville.

Chapter Two

DOROTHY LEE OUTSIDE THE O.R.


“Suzy, I have an idea.”

When I arrived at my “parking place” outside the OR, a nurse was standing at the foot of the bed smiling at me as Ryan Johanson, the anesthesiologist, introduced himself and told me a few things about what would happen next. He was informative and sweet, but I had my eye on the quiet nurse. When Ryan took a breather, she came forward to introduce herself. Instantly, I felt the Florita vibe. I was in caring hands, just as she’d promised.

Dorothy noticed I still had a ring on and inquired about it. I told her my mother gave it to me the night my Dad died, in 1980. It was his, and I rarely took it off. Upstairs, my finger was swollen just enough so the ring wouldn’t budge. Dorothy explained why it would be best to remove it.  If my arm or finger became swollen during surgery, they’d be forced to cut it off. Outside the OR, the air was considerably cooler, so off it slid. But now what? It was a tiny object in the belly of a huge, busy hospital. How would I find it after surgery? Dorothy understood the ring’s importance and the risk of leaving it behind. Together, we wondered what to do, when she paused.

“Suzy, I have an idea. I’m going to find a box for your ring, and have a nurse take it upstairs to Florita, and when you return to your room, it will be next to your bed. I promise.”  

She disappeared for a moment and returned with the box. She set the ring in it, and on cue another nurse appeared, name unknown. I thanked the nurse for being so kind and said I was sorry if it was asking too much. She replied,

“Not at all, this is really important to you, and I’m more than happy to do it.”

Off she went, and the next thing I knew I was rolled into the OR, out like a light. When I returned to my room Florita handed me the ring.  As I put it back on my finger, I thought of the night my Mum gave it to me. The very ring she gave my Dad around the time I was born. I thought of my Dad who never took it off until a few days before he died, and I wanted to hug Dorothy to pieces

for keeping it safe. And who was the nurse who Pony Expressed it to 3 South? And how did she find the time? Mary Oliver, the great poet who recently passed away said:

“Real attention needs empathy.  Attention without feeling is just a report.”

Dorothy must read poetry.

High five Dorothy. High five the Pony Express nurse. High five women with hearts the size of Europe, who have an inner stethoscope to hear the whispers of the heart and soul. I am in awe of them.

Dorothy is not a shining star.  She is a constellation.

Chapter Three

KRISTI GAVRE IN RECOVERY


“Suzy, I’m Kristi. You’re in the hospital.  You’ve just had surgery, and you’re doing great.”

I woke up in recovery not knowing where I was or who I was or what happened to me. Another beautiful face hovered close to mine beaming a gorgeous smile.  She repeated a mantra which slowly but powerfully penetrated what was left of my consciousness.  I was reeled in from the outer ring of Saturn by the power of her voice.

WHERE AM I?

“Suzy, my name is Kristi. You’ve had surgery and you’re doing great. You’re in the hospital.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO ME?

“Suzy, you’ve had surgery. You’re in the hospital. You’re doing beautifully. My name is Kristi.”

I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM

“Suzy, you’re doing great. You had surgery. You’re in the hospital, and I’m taking good care of you. My name is Kristi.”

I DON’T FEEL GOOD.

“Do you feel sick to your stomach?”

YES.

“Suzy, I’m going to give you something to make you feel better.”

OK, THANK YOU.  WHERE AM I?

“Suzy, you’re in the hospital. You’ve had surgery and you’re doing great. I’m Kristi and I’m taking care of you.”

DON’T LEAVE ME.

“Suzy, I won’t leave you. I’m right here. You’ve had surgery.  You’re in the hospital, and sometimes it takes your brain a while to catch up with your body. I’m Kristi, I’m taking care of you and you’re doing great.”

NO, I’M NOT.  I DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO ME.

“Would you like a cold washcloth on your forehead?”

YES!  THANK YOU.  WHERE AM I?

“Suzy, my name is Kristi…”

Schedule your surgery when Kristi’s on duty or you’ll circle the globe for a very long time. Her voice convinced me, her smile anchored me, and the mantra she repeated ad infinitum tethered me to her and brought me home. Recovery was rocky. I had no bearings as I swam through the murk disoriented and frightened. Kristi’s presence and the timbre of her voice were lifelines. I remember every word she said as if they affixed themselves to a New York City Broadway marquee.  When I was cogent enough to return to Florita on 3 South, you know —planet earth—honestly, the bell rang too soon because I didn’t want to leave dear Kristi behind. Winnie the Pooh said,

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard,”

Kristi deserves a halo. How many patients does she rescue in a day? And how does she pour every drop of herself into every word?  I shall never forget her voice. One day I’ll meet her in person to thank her. Give her flowers. Bring her chocolates. Say to her,

Kristi, my name is Suzy. I’m right here. I’m not leaving you.  You did a great job.  

Would you like a cold cloth on your forehead?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Once home, I finally associated the tone of Kristi’s voice with that of Olivia de Havilland’s as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. Melanie was the moral compass in the story, and her voice was infused with the quality of human kindness. As a child I was hypnotized by it.

And the Oscar for the most angelic voice goes to—

Kristi.

Chapter Four

SUZY CONWAY AT HER HORSE BARN


“I am not going to the ER, there’s a Warriors’ game tonight.”

I had five convincing symptoms of appendicitis, so I knew it was inevitable I’d be going to the ER. Before I left home, I looked out the window at the beautiful evening sky and ordered God to alert the celestial troops to meet me at the hospital and fast because I was almost out the door.

If you need proof of God’s existence, chapters 1 – 3 might suffice.

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