Creative Nonfiction

How a day out saved a life

city scape

She was a newly minted nurse in the 1950s. Starched white uniform and cap, hair curled like one of the Andrews sisters, shined shoes. Toughened by the strict nursing education she’d gotten for free, on the condition that she worked in the hospital where she was being taught. Oh, honey, we were slave labor, she said. Her training toughened her for the difficulties of being a nurse, yes. But it didn’t harden her to the difficulties of being a patient.

In those days, she said, we didn’t really have retirement homes, so elderly people who had money would live in a hospital room where they could be cared for. One of her patients was the father of the hospital superintendent.

If I could just get near that window, the aging man said to her one day, you wouldn’t have to fool with me anymore.

Oh, I got all upset, she said. I went to his doctor and said, Can I just take him out for a little while? I think it would do him some good.

Sure, the doctor said. I’ll write you an order.

She put her patient in a wheelchair and took him out to lunch at the market across the street. She wheeled him through the aisles, passing little stalls selling flowers, bread, meats. Then she brought him back to his room, where he could look out the window at the market across the street.

The hospital superintendent came after her the next day. He was mad because he should have been taking his father out, she said, but he hadn’t thought of it himself. I’m going to have you fired, he said.

Oh, I got all upset, she said. She ran outside the hospital and called her father. Didn’t you say you know the chair of the hospital board? she asked.

Good grief, girl, what have you done now?! he said.

He did know the chair, who did agree to go to bat for her. And the doctor produced the order he had written for the day out. She wasn’t fired.

Whenever she was around, her patient loved to tell people, That’s the one that took me out!

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