Home Health in Winter

One Quiet Day

The handwritten directions to my patient’s house indicated six more miles. I hoped that didn’t mean ten as the speedometer showed a whopping 8 mph. I steered the small car to what I hoped was the middle of the road, but couldn’t tell. Then my car slid a few feet, the rear end trying to catch its own headlights. Although I didn’t think I could grip the steering wheel any harder my fingers tightened as the car righted. I was only going 5 mph now.

My mind wandered. Back then, no one had cell phones. What would happen if I slid off the road? I had a blanket, water, a cola, and cheese nips. How long before I was missed? Why hadn’t Mr. Smith answered his phone this morning? He’d been discharged yesterday after a severe myocardial infarction and congestive heart failure. I knew he was widowed and then worried he was passed out on the floor. Maybe his phone was down because of the heavy snowfall. My mind raced over the grim possibilities.

I looked at the odometer, only one more mile to go. The road was empty. I had it all to myself. The snow was falling again, making it harder to see. All was still quiet, and all was white.

A sharp bend appeared in the road and then a mailbox. I slowed to a crawl but couldn’t see the name on the box. I stopped, carefully walking on ice. I made my way up to the mailbox. No numbers, only two faded black letters. I looked around but didn’t see a house. I caught a faint whiff of wood smoke mixed with the crisp clean smell of freshly fallen snow.

Beyond a massive bank of snow, I glimpsed a green-shingled roof. That must be it. No visible driveway, no way of knowing what that blanket of snow was hiding. Taking my nurse’s case and armed with an umbrella I started up the hill. Probe, step. Probe, step. Visions of historic medicine women, country midwives, and nurses in war-torn countries drifted through my mind. In this fashion, boots filled with snow, toes numb, I made by way to the front door.

Mr. Smith opened the door welcoming me into his small but neat home. “Thanks for coming. I was worried the weather was too bad. My phone’s down,” he said. He hung my coat on a peg near the stove, as I took my boots off to warm my frozen toes. I opened my nursing case and placed my equipment on a towel by the stove to warm before I started my assessment and work.

I spent over an hour in the pleasant company of Mr. Smith. As it turned out, I didn’t have to give him CPR or call 911. I wasn’t his lifeline today, but in many ways he was mine. He reminded me why I became a nurse, to make a difference in people’s lives.

When it was time to leave he helped me with my coat and thanked me again for braving the roads. As I gingerly made my way back down to my car he called out, “Stay on your old tracks, and you’ll be safe.” He’d explained to my horrified surprise that for most of the way, on either side of my footsteps, was an eight-foot ditch filled with snow. We marveled I hadn’t veered off this narrow path.

Today’s visit lingered in my heart for nearly a decade and renewed my dream of what I expected from myself as a nurse, to do whatever it takes to care for my patients. I can recall this day as if it were yesterday.

On days when paperwork seems more important than patients, or filled with grumpy people, days when the beeper and cell phone never stop and on nights when I’m too tired to sleep — I wonder why I ever became a nurse — then I remember this winter day with Mr. Smith. When it was so quiet, the world was so white, and I was so blessed.

Claudia Thomas, BSN, RN, CWOCN

Enterostomal Coordinator, Riverside Home Health Administration


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