What Can I Do Now?

Mike McGough
February 2024

She was a kind and generous person.  She became a nurse when that was the only real option for girls wanting to go into the medical field.  That was unless they had some legacy connection to the profession though a family member.  There was no doubt that she had learned a great deal during her 40-plus years as an emergency room and surgical scrub nurse.

During her career, the changes that had come to the field of nursing were as life-altering as they were numerous.  Continual training and constant updates were required.  She never missed an opportunity to learn, experience, and grow in her craft.  It was obvious that she was committed to that process.  She knew it was the only way she could be at her best.

The interplay between modern medicine and basic human nature seemed to fascinate her.  She recognized the role of the patient in medicine and she appreciated it.   At a church social, she once shared a story that demonstrated unmistakably just how impactful that role could be. 

She was committed to her church and the parishioners with whom she shared it.  She organized and really supported a social group that got together on Saturday evenings several times each year.  There was no set schedule, but instead, she just seemed to keep it going on a random calendar, that brought the group together at various locations.  It was a social time, with good food, good company, and good conversation.  One meeting may be a hayride on one of the member’s farm, and the next could be a simple gathering in the basement of the church. 

There was always food, and more often than not, she provided a substantial portion of it.  And if you were lucky, it included her shrimp dip.  At these gatherings, the conversation always seemed to develop organically.  There was no set topic, but every time you attended, you walked away having learned something.  You were a bit more aware of life and happy that you had been there. 

At one of these gatherings, she casually shared a particularly powerful story.  She mentioned no names and she talked in general terms.  Instead of being a recollection of a specific event, this tale seemed to be a generic story of something she had witnessed numerous times.  She started by sharing that everyone responds differently when they find themselves in an emergency situation, and their response can make all the difference in how they work through it.  It became quickly evident that this story was anything but casual in its potential impact. 

She spoke about two patients admitted to the emergency room, both being in the harsh throes of potentially life-threatening circumstances.  Their ages were similar, and their general health was also about the same.  She said that as she interacted with them throughout the night, she uttered a prayer for each of them, as she always did.   

As the group sat down to enjoy their food in that church basement, she continued with her story.  One guy in that group was really paying attention.  He’d recently made a trip to the ER, and the experiences had left him a little anxious.  She was talking to the group, but he hung on her every word. 

She went on to say that both patients were stabilized, then admitted.  They’d each require continued treatment and surgical procedures, followed by recovery and rehabilitation.  She stressed their similar physical conditions and their projected courses of recovery.  She then pointed out that that’s where their similarities ended.  Their views of the roles they’d play in what came next in their lives was noticeably, even strikingly, different.  One of them asked again and again in an aggravated tone, “Why did this happen to me,” and “What’s being done for me?”  The other asked, “What did I do to cause this?” and “What can I do now?”

Again, the little group fell quiet.  That is other than the sounds of spoons lightly clanging against bowls of chili.  She provided the chili, and the warm bread, then garnished it with a fascinating life lesson!  The guy who was listening so intently then asked, “How’d they make out?” 

“Oh, they both made it, but they made it quite differently.  One came back stronger—recommitted to life.  The other one, well, not so much.  I’ll leave it up to you to determine which was which!”

By accepting a fuller measure of personal responsibility, we can help to determine what does and doesn’t happen in our lives.  We can help to set our course through tough times, and as a result we may well emerge better prepared for opportunities that always seem to follow on the heels of difficult circumstances. 

Thank you, Lou!