"What Goes Around... "

 

By Jim DeBrosse

Teresita Rodriguez slipped her snow-covered car into one of the empty spots on the first floor of the employee parking garage — one of the lucky perks, she supposed, of having to work the Christmas Eve nursing shift at Miami Valley Hospital.

She grabbed her mother's plate of cookies from the back seat and started briskly for the elevator.

She was late, thanks to the early arrival that night of the White Christmas everyone who wasn't working always dreamed about.

But chances were, with her mother's Christmas cookies as a peace offering, her supervisor wouldn't mind.

She was just steps from her unit when her cell phone rang from her purse. Oh, no. The Rumba tone.

"Mama, I'm late as it is and I just left your house. Que pasa?"

"But it's your Miracle Day, mija."

"Mama, that was 25 years ago. Are you going to call me at this time every year for the rest of my life?"

"No, just the rest of my life."

"Mama, I'm late."

"It was exactly this time, 7:07, when I carried you into the emergency room. I saw the big clock on the wall. I was scared to death you would die, you were so tiny."

"Yes, Mama. You've told me a million times. I love you. Now can I report to my shift?"

"Te quiero tambien, chamaca. You are my best Christmas gift of all. Feliz Navidad."

"Feliz Navidad."

The unit clerk, Vicki, was smiling as Teresita arrived with the big plate of cookies. Teresita set them on the counter in front of Vicki's computer.

"Your mother's?"

"Of course."

"They won't last long." Vicki grinned. "Why don't you leave 'em here, just for safekeeping."

"Save at least one for Tanya. I'll need it for being late."

"She's in a supervisors' meeting. Her loss."

Vicki pulled back the aluminum foil carefully, as though uncovering secret treasure.

"Oh my, my. I love the ones with the sprinkles best."

"Go for it."

Teresita went to the records computer by the mailboxes and began to go over her patient assignments for the night. Rooms 705 through 709. Five patients in all. Only one critical. A new admission, Stanley Kushman. White male, age 62, with severe pneumonia. A history of alcoholism. Found by police under a downtown bridge. She looked at his room number — 707 — and blinked.

"Merry Christmas, Stanley," she said to the screen.

Mary Alice Neely, the day-shift nurse, rolled up a chair beside her. She looked concerned — and when Mary Alice looked concerned, you listened. She was one of the best and most experienced nurses at the hospital.

"Sorry I'm late," Teresita said. "I guess I need new tires. I brought cookies, though."

"Your mother's?"

Teresita pointed. "Over at reception."

Mary Alice stood from her chair. "Vicki, you leave me some, you hear me!"

Vicki shouted back, her mouth full. "Sure thing, girl."

Mary Alice sat again, the look of concern reappearing on her face.

"Have you seen Stanley Kushman's chart?"

Teresita nodded. "Still critical?"

"We may have to call his doctor. He's refusing treatment."

Teresita glanced at his screen record. "It's just IV vancomycin."

"And it's all ready to go. But he won't take the needle."

"Is he phobic?"

"No," Mary Alice sighed, "he wants to die."

The two nurses stared at each other a moment. This was not why they had gotten into the profession.

"Wonderful," Teresita said. "And on Christmas Eve."

"His vitals are holding up for now, but he's short of breath and sweating with chills. I've got extra blankets on him."

"I guess I know which patient I'll be seeing first."

They both got up from their chairs.

"Oh, and one more thing," Mary Alice said. "Might as well break the bad news all at once."

"He says he has no relatives. I've asked the social worker to look into it."

Teresita smiled glumly. "'Tis the season to be jolly."

Mary Alice patted her on the shoulder. "You can do it. I know you can."

The door to Room 707 was slightly ajar when Teresita knocked.

A small, wheezy voice answered, "Yes."

The room was brightly lit, and Stanley Kushman was alone in the bed nearest the window. He was thin and frail well beyond his 62 years. His gray head was propped on pillows, but the rest of his body, up to his bulbous Adam's Apple, was sheathed in layers of white blankets.

A single note of holiday cheer — a small porcelain Christmas tree dotted with colored lights — blinked on and off on his nightstand. Next to the stand stood the IV pole and bag filled with vancomycin. The tube dangled with nowhere to go.

"Hello, Mr. Kushman. My name is Teresita Rodriguez. I'm your nurse tonight. Can you tell me how you're feeling?"

The old man stared at the ceiling, swallowing between quick breaths.

"Does it ... matter?"

Teresita winced. Not a good start.

"Do you mind if I take your vitals?"

"Fine."

Teresita noted the pallor of his clammy face, the shallow breath whistling through his dry, cracked lips, as she slipped the thermometer tip into his ear and pressed the button. Not good. 104.2. Any higher and she would have to pack him off to ICU.

She took his wrist and felt his pulse. Faint and rapid. 102 beats per minute.

She grabbed the blood pressure cuff from the basket near the head of the bed. She found his left arm under the blankets, wrapped the cuff and pumped it, then listened through her stethoscope. The cuff wheezed like Mr. Kushman's chest when she released the valve. 90 over 72. It could be worse. He must have a strong heart.

She decided to try teasing him first. Sometimes that worked.

"I have a report you're not behaving, Mr. Kushman. You won't take your medicine."

He shook his head no, his eyes still fixed on the ceiling, as though waiting to see something there. The Angel of Death?

"You're lucky, you know. You have a very treatable form of pneumonia, Mr. Kushman. All you have to do is let us hook up your IV and, in a couple of days, you can go home."

He shook his head no, vigorously this time.

"Can I ask why?"

He spoke quickly, softly between breaths, never taking his eyes from the ceiling.

"Don't ... deserve ... to live."

Teresita drew a deep breath.

"I see. Not even on Christmas Eve?"

"No."

"May I ask you why you feel this way?"

"Never done ... no good ... for nobody."

"Oh, come now, Mr. Kushman. That's your fever talking. Do you have family?"

"A wife ... daughter ... Florida."

"May I call them?"

He shook his head no. "Won't come ... not for ... an old drunk."

"How do you know until you try?"

"Lost ... every job ... ever had ... they left ... years ago."

She noticed how gentle his eyes were. A clear blue, like Caribbean water, glinting from his fever.

Teresita bit her lip. She was not about to let anyone die on her shift. Not on Christmas Eve. And especially not in Room 707.

"You say you've never done anyone any good, Mr. Kushman. But it's the little things that count. Kindnesses we don't even remember. Let me tell you a story.

"I know a woman, a Mexican immigrant, who came to this city 25 years ago. Her husband picked fruit while she cleaned houses. Then one day, while her husband was in the fields, they rounded up all the illegals and sent them back to Mexico.

"But the woman stayed. She was pregnant and wanted what was best for her child. She had the baby, put it in day care and continued to work.

"Then one day just before Christmas, the baby got sick, very sick. The woman didn't have a thermometer, but she knew the baby had a terrible fever and her lungs were congested.

"She kept the baby warm, gave her medicine for the fever and tried to get her to drink. But the baby got worse and worse and then no longer even cried. The woman knew very little English, but she knew she had to get the baby to a hospital.

"So on Christmas Eve, she bundled up the baby as best she could and took her to the bus stop and waited in the cold. But it wasn't long before a young man came along and, seeing her alone with the baby, grabbed her purse.

"The woman fought back, desperate to keep what little money she had. But she couldn't drop the baby. So the young man pulled at her purse — pulled until the strap broke, and then he ran.

"The woman stood there crying, wondering how she would pay for the bus now that her money was gone. She knew she couldn't walk to the hospital. Her baby would die. So she knelt down at the bus stop and she began to pray. She prayed out loud, in Spanish, as she sobbed.

"Soon another man came along, not as young as the first. He was a poor man, his hair and his clothes a filthy mess. But he reached into his pocket and gave her everything he had. It came to exactly $2.38 — in quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies. And then he just walked away.

"The woman thanked him in Spanish, but she never saw him again. Soon the bus came and took them to the hospital, and the woman ran into the emergency room with her baby. She noticed on the clock that it was exactly 7:07.

"The woman was my mother and I was the baby. I was diagnosed with acute pneumonia, just like you, Mr. Kushman. And if it hadn't been for the man who emptied his pockets on Christmas Eve, I would not be here today."

She stopped and was silent, thinking she might cry from the emotion of the story.

Mr. Kushman was staring at her now, the blue eyes electric and very alive. His lips were quivering as he spoke.

"Does ... your mother ... " He stopped himself and shook his head no.

"Does she what, Mr. Kushman?"

He closed his eyes and struggled to take a deep breath, then he opened them again.

"Remember ... anything ... about ... the man ..."

"The man who gave her the money?"

Mr. Kushman nodded, his eyes still fixed on her.

"Funny you should ask that. She remembered only one thing — only because it was so unusual. The man was missing his right index finger. He must have lost it in an accident of some kind. She remembered because he could hardly hold all the change in his hand."

Mr. Kushman stared at her, his eyes filling with tears, as he pushed down his blankets. He held up the three fingers on his right hand.

"No, it can't be true!"

There was the hint of a smile in the old man's eyes for the first time.

"Is it true?"

He nodded and broke into a quivering smile. Teresita reached over and enveloped the old man in a hug. He was all bones and whiskers. She was openly crying now.

"I can't believe it! I just can't believe it! It's a miracle. You dear, dear, dear man. After all these years, and here you are. In my room. Room 707!"

 She stood again and Mr. Kushman was beaming at her with pride and admiration, as though he had made her what she was. His face was less pale. His lips had stopped quivering. It was as though she had breathed new life into him. He turned his head on the pillow and glanced at the IV pole.

"Are you ready?"

He nodded.

Teresita grabbed a Kleenex from her coat pocket and wiped her tears. She was still sniffling as she brought the IV pole around.

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Kushman. Today is your Miracle Day."

Copyright, 2007, Cox Ohio Publishing. All rights reserved.

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