“Reasons To Be Thankful”

What does being thankful mean?  How do we gauge our real appreciation for whom, what or where we are in our respective states of life?  I believe we all have some idea, but I tend to think this is relative.

Most of us feel grateful for that which we have, our health and happiness, and also what we’ve attained and achieved.  I hope that I am getting better at appreciating the people in my life.  Furthermore, I WILL get better at supporting those who are less fortunate than myself. 

Life sometimes provides sobering reminders as to why gratitude should be more widespread and abundant than it is, trailing far behind self-indulgence and entitlement.  I have experienced a reminder or two myself along the way. 

I’d like to share three stories.  Warning: these are not for the faint of heart.  They are graphic, disturbing, painful to endure and not easily digestible. However, they represent pivotal moments in my character development and shaped my perspective of my life.  Please read on if you are able.

Some years ago I worked as a Service Consultant for a specialty medical supplier.  Essentially I would quality check, transport and set treatment levels of  medical devices for patients in medical facilities.  As one might imagine I saw many people in various states of compromised health.  Three of these persons’ stories can be viewed as either cautionary or inspiring, or both, and to this day serve as personal reminders as to why we have more to be thankful for than we sometimes know. 

I was dispatched to a local hospital known to specialize in severe and unusual injuries.  The type of therapy mattress requested by the medical staff gave me an indication of what I might expect.  However, nothing could prepare anyone for what I would witness.  The hallway leading to the patient’s room was alive with activity, unusual for this ward during evening hours. As I approached the room the tension seemed to greet me at the door.  Hurried sounds and movements seeped through the walls.  A nurse appeared through the noise and issued this warning:  “it is not good so be prepared and exit quickly”.  My raised temperature and increased pulse provided no clue still as to what I did see. 

Before entering the room, I peeked in to see where I would place the new therapy bed.  I noticed that the regular bed was empty, but it was soiled with blood and every other bodily fluid.  The twelve or thirteen doctors and nurses inside seemed more like one hundred as they raced around the small space.  Every medical device I had ever seen was present and active.  Hoses and wires extended from these up into a harness where I finally notice the patient.

Suspended from what may have been a hoyer lift was a man’s badly broken body missing both legs from the thigh down.  The eyes were wide open, emotionless.  Mouth agape, breathless.  Fluids poured, literally, from every opening. After noticing me the charge nurse relieved me of the task of placing the mattress in the room.  I placed it at the door and left the room internally shaken and incredibly humbled by the what I saw. Bone chilling at the time, this experience was frozen into my soul indefinitely. I should be more thankful……

On a beautiful spring night some time ago, I was working my mandatory on call weekend.  It was Saturday, about 11:30 pm and I had just finished my last call.  While heading back to the service center I receive a message for a new call.  So I had to turn around and head in the opposite direction thirty minutes away.  “How dare they ‘mess up’ my weekend!

I arrive at the location sometime around 1am.  It’s a private residence, an apartment in a secluded area.  It’s late, dark with no driveway to the front of the building.  This patient has called because the nurse on the late shift has not shown up.  The pain is intolerable and getting worse.  Her wound vac needed a therapy adjustment.  A wound vac is a toaster-sized medical vacuum which is used to pull fluids out of a wound while simultaneously inserting medicine into it.  The tubes connect directly to the affected area and are bandaged/taped into place.

My equipment includes the vac, a portable printer, scanner and a supply box.  A good bit.  I walk around to the patient’s front entrance which faces the woods.  Approaching her building I notice a shadowy silhouette standing outside on a third floor balcony.  Alone.  Did not expect this at that time of morning, now approaching 2 am.

I hear a faint sound, maybe a voice, but it is too distant to make out.  Moving nearer I hear a faint whisper, almost a whimper, pleading “please help me, please help.”  I hear this repeatedly.  I ask. “Miss, did you call for medical assistance?”  I needed confirmation.  It was in fact her, the whimper now a small cry.  “Can you help please? I can’t take it any longer.” I make my way up to her apartment door which is wide open.  She meets me there wearing a night gown and bra and nothing more, clearly in agony. 

She falls backwards onto her sofa revealing her wound.  The clear bandage exposes a two inch wide opening on the right side of her navel.  It stretches from there down to about an inch away from her vagina.  I wondered how she got this wound, but dared not ask. She desperately needed a nurse or doctor to prescribe a new prescription.  They did not return her calls.  The pain was so unbearable that the patient begged me to change the therapy without authorization.  I did not, but received authorization from a nurse administrator after an hours worth of phone calls.  I will be more thankful……..

One day I received a call to go to Bethesda Naval Hospital to exchange a wound vac.  I had never been there before.  I knew that it was a military facility and figured that Veterans would comprise the majority of the patients and they did. However, I was completely unaware of the type of injuries I would see as I delivered equipment to the rooms.

News stations oftentimes do segments on Wounded Warriors, soldiers injured in the line of duty. These stories mainly focus on one particular individual which may deprive viewers of experiencing the magnitude of impact these injuries have. Visiting a hospital ward with multiple amputees, burn victims and various other conditions heightens and affects your senses in ways I can’t fully describe.

My patient was a young woman, no older than 30 years of age. She had lost one of her legs, the other suffering from some type of damage. She was alone, not in the best of spirits but courageously trying to remain positive FOR MY SAKE. As fate would have it, upon leaving her room I walked past another patient who had lost his foot. His mom and dad were there with him. He was upbeat and jovial as he described his accident and subsequent surgery. However, despite his best efforts his parents were not able to share in his optimism, his mother clearly attempting to mask her sadness and his father concerningly staring directly at his lower extremities. I wondered what he was thinking, how he was feeling….

I shared these incidents with no intention to be gratuitous, but to show that sometimes we take for granted that which we should appreciate most. Whoever you are, whatever you have be thankful for it. Appreciate life, health, family and time. And if you’re really thankful share some of what you have with someone who has less. We all should be more thankful.

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