The steady rhythm of my throbbing feet accompanied me as I pushed my way through another feverish hospital evening. My assignments varied—the living with the dying. Entering one room to bring comfort to the man dying of lung cancer, I donned my gloves and hung the chemotherapy. My next mission was to encourage the hysterectomy patient to cough and ambulate. My schedule didn't allow this snail-like procession around the nurse's station. The pressure of my duties preoccupied me as we walked with the mobile IV pole. The smell of stale coffee permeated the air. I wondered if I'd make it out on time. My tasks were enough to keep me there until 4 a.m.
The peculiar sounds of a woman in labor filtered out of a room. I had learned that doctors removed the uterus as well as the contents. I had chosen not to be part of this unless there was an emergency. Demands seemed to be increasing, with only two nurses per side of the hall. As the RN, I had 11 patients and team leader responsibilities. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would find myself assigned to an abortion.
I could hear someone's bell ringing and knew it was time to hang the next bottle of chemo. I assisted the frail lady back into bed as she requested an evening cup of tea. Excusing myself by explaining that I had to attend to an urgent matter, I promised to bring the tea soon. The room where I had heard the moaning woman was now strangely silent. I saw a nurse leaving the room carrying a white cardboard bucket that was about ten inches deep. An unexplainable feeling of remorse swept over me.
Pushing my uneasy feelings aside, I continued on my way to room 6028. Smiling back at me from his bed was an elderly emaciated man. Every month, he dutifully came back to this hospital, set all dignity aside, crawled into bed for three days, and stayed in a fetal position. During those days, the mysterious chemical infused into his body through the tiny surgically implanted catheter. He suffered through unrepentant waves of nausea. The chemotherapy had fulfilled its promise of prolonging his life. On the good days, he volunteered at the nursing home, encouraging those more fortunate than himself. I turned on the night light in the bathroom and hung the next bag.
The next stop was the dirty utility room to dispose the bags into the red pail for hazardous waste. The utility room was a mini-culture of equipment. Each piece represented a separate story. There were suture removal trays, contaminated needles in red boxes, chemicals used to test bodily fluids, and other medical items. My eyes stopped abruptly and focused on the familiar white bucket perched on the counter. Curiously, they drifted to read the form lying on top of the bucket, "Weight, time, date." My inquisitive eyes also noted the gestation period listed on the sheet - 17 weeks. I calculated quickly - 4 months. I remembered the butterfly flutter I first felt when life was within my womb. Curious eyes noticed that the top of the bucket was not on tightly. Determined hands moved to place the top snugly down on the bucket. Acting against wisdom, I found myself lifting the top. Peering inside quickly, hesitantly, somehow trying to confirm what I already knew, I saw him. There, curled in the bottom of that cardboard bucket he laid, only six inches long, but perfectly formed. Only God could have fearfully and wonderfully made this miracle of a boy, so tiny, yet so unmistakably human. The remorse that had swept over me earlier grabbed my heart and tried to suffocate it with the pain I felt.
Hot tears flooded my eyes as grief and anger overcame me. With fumbling fingers, I clumsily restored the lid and ran to the nurse's lounge. Locking myself into the bathroom stall, I allowed the rush of anguish to spill out of me in heaving sobs. For a long moment the temptation to run from the hospital pulled at me. I glanced at my watch. Eight o'clock stared back at me—3 1/2 hours left to suppress my feelings and pick up my responsibilities. I couldn't run. Instead, I prayed, "Father, forgive them." The rest followed: "They know not what they do." I realized in that moment that the same blindness that caused men to mar Jesus' visage beyond recognition and crucify Him still exists today. "For the God of this world has blinded their eyes."
My mind raced like an unstoppable roller coaster. Who was he? What purpose had he been designed to fulfill? If only his mother could have the opportunity to see what she had forsaken. The child's first smile, the touch of his little hand wrapped around her finger, the sweet soft smell of a baby that imprinted itself upon a mother's memory—these were just a few of her losses. The relentless thoughts continued to whirl in my mind. Where has our society gone when such natural God-given privileges have been discarded? Why are they replaced by careers or other selfish desires, inconveniences, or even fear? If Beethoven's mother had allowed fear to rule, the world would have missed the composer's gift of music. How many millions of others has our world thrown away? Yet, each day, barren women like Hannah of old cry in bitterness of soul for want of a child. Through my tears, I could see plainly how modern man has set himself up to be God. Advanced scientific ambitions can now prolong man's mortality or cease his existence. Without hearing of how God makes all things possible, the blindness and fear will march many others off to premature death. The Potter had wrought a new usefulness to this clay vessel. I would no longer shun the abortion clients. I would forgive them and pray that His light might remove their blindness.
Remembering the promised cup of tea, I stopped into the kitchen. After apologizing for the delay, I was able to spend some rare moments with my patient. She lived alone and had no family to look after her. If the nursing shortage didn't demand so much of me, I would have enjoyed taking more time with her. For now, though, she would have to accept this rare time, coupled with an extra long back rub, to compensate for the late cup of tea.
The shift came to a close. The city street was quiet. At home, I climbed the stairs to my bedroom. With the exception of the snoring family and my creaking ankles, all was silent. I looked in on my three sleeping children and lingered, gazing over them longer than usual. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I whispered a thanksgiving prayer. The words of Jesus dropped softly, but loudly, into my heart. "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God."
Ms. Hansen has been a registered nurse for 32 years. She lives in Auburn, New York, and has 3 grown children. She is also a freelance writer, graphic designer and legal nurse consultant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.