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Good Morning Doctor! - Chapter 29

Cheerful Tom

On the morning of August 4, 1907, I was called out about two o'clock to meet an injured freight conductor who was being brought in from a neighboring town. The poor fellow arrived at the hospital on a cot, motionless, a pitiable sight.

I examined him and found that he had a number of fractures of the spinal column with destruction of the spinal cord so that he was without motion, except to the slightest degree in his arms, and without sensation from the neck down. Mentally he was not affected but the injury to his spinal cord was such that he had no control of himself, not even of his bladder or rectum. He was a hopeless case. The only thing we could do for him was to make him as comfortable as possible. Obviously we could not hope to cure him.

He was placed in the ward with one of the Sisters as his special nurse, with the other nurses of the ward assisting. And there he lay, day in, day out; night in, night out; unable to move, unable to do a thing. As day and night followed each other in a long procession he never lost courage. One morning I asked him how he was doing. As quick as a flash he grinned at me and with a twinkle in his eye answered, "Well, Doc, you know I can't kick."

For eight long months he lay there, and only twice in that time did I see his spirit shaken. Once was the time when, as I approached his bed, I found him with his eyes downcast. When he did look up, I saw that he was crying. With a choke in his voice he sobbed out, "Oh, Doctor, have you ever been so happy you couldn't keep the tears back?"

I nodded.

"Well, that's me this morning. See, look here," he nodded toward his hand. On it he was wearing a ring set with a small diamond. "The boys on my train bought it for me. Two of them came over from home with it and gave it to me yesterday. That note was with it." I picked up the note that lay on the table by his bed. It was a simple, friendly greeting signed by all the men who had been in his freight train crew.

As I think of that incident, I realize anew what happiness can be brought to a bedridden friend by such acts of kindness. How many times have I seen a weary soul lifted up by the thought that someone cared enough to send a post card or a tiny gift or a letter.

Toward the end of his stay at the hospital, in spite of all that could be done, Tom had to be moved from the ward to a private room because of the odor emanating from his bedsores and his unconscious bowel movements. When he was told he would have to be moved, he broke down; for the second time in those long months he cried. I tried to explain that the change was really necessary. "Oh, I know that, Doctor, I know that. I can stand it. It's just that Sister Thecla can't take care of me any more; she's been so good to me." He knew that the Sisters were not supposed to act as special nurses for private male patients.

When I assured him that a special dispensation had been granted in his case and that she would still continue to take care of him, he smiled through his tears. Even before those tears were dry his great courage and cheerfulness came back to him.

When we wheeled him out of that ward the other patients felt that they were losing a friend, for he had made himself an inspiration even to them. And the nurses hated to see him go. More than once in those months had he been outspoken in his criticism of other patients who had been unfair in their demands on the nurses.

So he went into the private room. There Sister Thecla continue to care for him, to dress his sores, to keep him clean. Time and again she refused to be relieved of her arduous task. Surely a mere sense of duty could not have sustained her thus; she must have had divine help, for her devotion and her ideal of service were more than mortal. In those last days she worked almost unceasingly and on March 27, 1098, her patient smiled his last smile, closed his eyes, and went from this life.

Sister Thecla, utterly exhausted by those months of toil, was given a few weeks to regain her strength. Then, perhaps in recognition of her remarkable work, she was promoted to become the manager of another hospital operated by the Sisters. She had been in her new place only a few months when she was stricken with apoplexy and died.

And thus the peace of death came to those two great souls; those two who are living today in the hearts of many, who have never ceased being an inspiration to me: he whose indomitable spirit rose above horrible injury, whose smile failed but twice; she who gave herself in service to others, who ministered tenderly, patiently as long as life itself remained.

  Version: World Wide Web Edition Copyright 1995 by Richard Rathe
  Created: October 1, 1995   Modified: July 5, 1999

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