A Simple Act

Here is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-released non-fiction book, “Reflections of a Grateful Man”.

A Simple Act

When I was in my late teens I thought I was having a heart attack, but it proved to be a collapsed lung instead. The doctors said the lung might heal itself. It didn’t.

It was like a balloon with a slow leak. The air–my AIR–would leave the lung and get stuck between the outside of my lung and inside of my chest cavity. It hurt.

I was scared. It got to the point after multiple collapses that I couldn’t walk across a level parking lot without stopping to gasp for air.

Then, the unthinkable happened. My other lung started going bad. I knew that if they both deflated at the same time I would die, even if I was in the hospital on an operating room table.

It was also about then that my fiancée at the time–not the woman who later became my wife–decided she loved another man more than me and broke off our engagement.

And, my oldest and closest friend had just moved to Iowa.

I was lonely, heart-broken, lung-broken, in pain, with an unknown future, facing (if I lived long enough) two dangerous and very painful surgeries.

I didn’t care if I lived or died, and I was leaning in the direction that would permanently take all my pain away.

As I understand it, each surgery required that my ribs be separated far enough apart that a total of three hands could work inside me at the same time.

All I know is that, when I came out of the surgery, I had about an 18-inch scar running up my back from one of my sides, and a LOT of stitches. Pain does not come close to describing what I felt. Agony was closer, but perhaps even it doesn’t do justice to what I was experiencing.

I think I was in ICU for about a week and began recovering from home for three more weeks before heading back for my second surgery. When it was done, I had about 36 inches of scars and stitches, and even more pain.

While I was in the hospital the second time, there was no position I could be in that didn’t involve lying on stitches and/or vital tubing, and incredible pain.

Just about the point at which I didn’t think things could become worse, they did.

A nurse turned me on my side that had just been operated on so that I was lying on my wound, stitches, and newly separated ribs. Despite my strong protests, she propped me up and wedged me in so that I couldn’t move. Then she ignored me and my whispered pleas for the rest of her shift. I was in so much pain and had so little lung capacity that whispering was the best I could do. I was reduced to whimpering and tears.

Then an angel of mercy arrived in the form of a young male nurse in an era when that was still somewhat of a rarity. He took one look at me, and a look of compassion came over him as he immediately helped get me into a less painful position.

It might have been a simple act of mercy and kindness for him–one that he probably forgot soon later–but his kind act remains warm in my memory and heart three and a half decades later.

To that wonderful nurse, and all others like him, thank you for all you do to help ease pain and suffering, and for making my world a better place.

With Love,

About russtowne

I'm awed by the beauty of nature and the power of love and gratitude. Some of my favorite sensory experiences include waves crashing on rocky shores, waterways in ancient redwood and fern-filled forests, and rain. My wife and I have been married since 1979. We have 3 adult children and 5 grandchildren. I manage a wealth management firm that I founded in 2003. My Beloved is a Special Education teacher for Kindergartners and First Graders. I'm a published author of approximately 60 books in a variety of genres for grownups and children.
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23 Responses to A Simple Act

  1. utesmile says:

    It is wonderful if you find staff who do not just do their job but also have a heart and listen and have compassion. So in your case. You have gone through a lot and that also explains why you love life and are a grateful man. Things like that do!

    • russtowne says:

      Thank you, Ute. I believe that when people go through awful experiences–especially situations where other folks hurt us–we have a choice.

      We can choose to let what we went through become an excuse to close our heart in an attempt to protect ourselves from future pain, or we can open our heart to help others who are in pain.

      I believe the decision is sometimes consciously made, but often not.

      I found that closing my heart only created more pain–for myself and others–so the only logical choice for me was to find the will and courage to open my heart and help others.

      While that decision sometimes also led to additional pain, it was the path that brought much greater joy into my life. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

      Fortunately, we all have the opportunity to choose that path every day.

  2. I wonder how many other memories contain images of the same angel? I hope he knows that things he did made a difference. What a wonderful memory out of such a painful time.

  3. willowdot21 says:

    Yes there are still angels about and it is wonderful when you actually meet one!! Lovely memory thank you for sharing!!

  4. Mrs. P says:

    Riveting story…unusual situation…with a hero attached. Yay! Yes, it is the simple things. I worked in a skilled nursing facility for a bit and one of my observations was that the men, generally were more compassionate than the women, sorry ladies. Also, some of the strangest ones were the most ardent advocates of care. I only hope that if I ever need care, that I am lucky enough to find someone who really understands what the word means.

    • russtowne says:

      Thank you for your interesting and thought-provoking comment, Mrs. P. I burst out laughing at your last line, seeing the humor and irony in it, but half-way through my outburst, I stopped laughing as I also felt the seriousness behind it. When I am in need of care, I too hope to be lucky enough to find someone who really understands what the word means.

      • Mrs. P says:

        I didn’t mean to sound like I was bashing care providers. There are many excellent care takers out there…if you ever find you need to investigate a facility or and individual for private care…just look at the staff and their interaction with the residents. Then look at cleanliness. If they have excellent standards, there should be no smell either…and you have a winner.

        • russtowne says:

          Thank you for your clarification and suggestions, Mrs. P. I had no doubt as to your kind intent and that you were in no way maligning such a noble profession.

  5. Isn’t it funny that a simple act of kindness can be remembered years later ~ and as you said it was probably just a compassionate act on the part of the nurse, but it is still remembered by you. I remember a nurse when I had my first surgery for breast cancer. He came in and he fluffed my pillows, fixed my blankets and brushed my hair out of my eyes with such compassion and kindness. I wept with gratitude ~ what a gem ~ and then I never saw him again. An angel I believe who just came at the perfect time for me. We are blessed, aren’t we? ♥

  6. I Am Jasmine Kyle says:

    I hope you can feel better and I love that at this time of year ESPECIALLY you have a post about simple kindnesses!

  7. bulldog says:

    This is an interesting share Russ… and nurses male or female are normally unjustly not given the due they deserve, but that one who placed you on the wrong side should be fired… bit late now but still

    • russtowne says:

      Hi, bulldog. I agree that nurses are in a tough profession, and the best ones often don’t get the credit or praise they deserve.

      I too hope the female nurse in the story quickly found a profession for which she was better suited.


  8. Now days they would be trying to push you out of the hospital a week after the surgery, well it seems that way at times, a person goes in for surgery and the next day they are getting you out of bed and moving around even if you are in agony maybe it is better for us but at times I wonder.
    Now to the nurse who put you in such a painful position she sounds like one of those who thinks the patient knows nothing about how they are feeling, the other male nurse sounds like a great nurse one who would do a lot of good work with kindness

    • russtowne says:

      Thank you for your comment, Joanne. Two of my friends recently had substantial back/spinal surgery and they were both released the same day. Amazing. Medical care sure has come a long way in my lifetime.

  9. Russ… I can relate to a portion of what you wrote… I did not of course have the seriousness of your condition but this summer when I was in the hospital and my ribs were fractured I remember the pain and there seemed also to be one particular nurse that seemed how to always know how to make me comfortable without even asking… I wrote our local newspaper and thanked the nurses/firemen/police/paramedics who all had a hand in saving my life….and they published it… I was just so thankful for them all…… Diane

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