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Finding Your Easter Sunrise

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, October 7th, 2008

Nurse’s give, not only with their hands, but also with their hearts and souls and spirits. Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul offers this story to remind nurses the importance of acknowledging and nurturing their spiritual lives. As this nurse so poignantly points out, we must refill our “spiritual wells,” and each “find our Easter sunrise.”

There is a stopping point in the North Carolina mountains called Pretty Place. Pull off the main road and follow a dirt one to a clearing and there stands an open-air chapel on the side of the mountain. Simple concrete benches encompass a stone pulpit. The area is open on all sides so you can see the breath-taking beauty of the scenery. There is a feeling of reverence about the place. People talk quietly, as though in church, in this wonderful place of solitary reflection.

At Easter time about twenty years ago, a group of friends and I decided to attend the sunrise service at Pretty Place. I had always wanted to go but never managed. I was an Emergency Room nurse and had to work on this particular Easter Sunday too, but worked it out to go to the service, and then go to work my shift. We got up about 2:00 a.m. to make the drive to Pretty Place. We arrived in the dark, parked, and proceeded toward the chapel. A huge gathering of people collected in and around the chapel. In darkness, a simple nondenominational church service was held including a hymn, a prayer and a short message.

I was content just to sit and enjoy the tranquility, the smell of earth and pine, and feel the coolness of the morning air on my skin. I heard the birds and the sounds of the woods around us and enjoyed the pleasure of being with my friends. The sky lightened as the day broke and a glowing orange ball began to appear as if it was rising out of the earth. One minute there was a gray canvas and the next, a glowing sphere of orange, yellow, pink rose filling the sky. Then, more quickly than they had come, the crowd took their leave to return to the real world. I headed for work.

I arrived feeling peaceful and ready for the day. The ER was quiet too. Since there were no patients, I began cleaning and restocking.

I heard the familiar announcement, “patient in the hall” and then the sound of a man’s voice calling for help in desperation and panic. I entered the hallway to see a man carrying a small, limp, breathless child. Traces of blood and discoloration smeared one side of her pale face. No other wounds were visible. The man handed me the little girl, dressed in a frilly dress, lace-trimmed socks, patent leather shoes, and a crushed Easter bonnet. His words spilled out. He couldn’t see her when he backed the family van out of the driveway. She was dressed and ready for church. She saw her daddy leaving. She ran behind him. She only wanted to go with her daddy.

I rushed her into critical care leaving the father in the hallway. Someone would come shortly to get him to fill out the paper work and show him to the family waiting room–not the usual waiting room, but the small, softly-lit, private waiting room where families and friends await bad news and pray desperate prayers for the lives of their loved ones.

As the call of Code Blue went out over the hospital loudspeaker, a team gathered to do all that was possible to save this child. Her Easter clothes were cut away and she was intubated. We began CPR, started an IV, and gave her drugs to attempt to restart her heart and lungs. It soon became obvious her neck was broken. We continued to resuscitate her, doing everything within the power of man and medicine. We couldn’t give up the life of this small child. There is a knowing, an intellectual process that says there is nothing to do, but the heart often pushes us beyond this knowledge to try anyway. So try we did.

After the hopeless resuscitation ceased, I slowly removed the tubes with tears in my eyes, a huge lump in my throat, and heaviness in my chest. We took care of the details of preparing her body for death and for her family to see her. The Emergency Room doctor went to the family room. His words to the father would start with, “Your little girl is dead. There really was nothing we could do, but we tried.” He would talk, trying to explain what had happened. He would listen for a little while to give the father a chance to begin to verbalize how he was feeling.

The cry we heard coming from this man as he was given the news still touches me at the core of my very being. Some of us have experienced the misfortunes in life that enable us to understand the pain and loss this man must have felt.

It’s been twenty years since that Easter Sunday. I am married now and have four children of my own. I traded in the job of being a nurse for that of being a full time mother and homemaker. Not an Easter has passed since that I do not remember that little girl in the arms of her father on that Easter Sunday. I can always recall the pain and agony of that father’s cry at the news of the death of his daughter. Now, as a parent, I understand that cry in a way that I couldn’t at that time.

Medical personnel must learn to deal with the pain and suffering of others in order to do their job. We witness human misery, loss of limb and life, loss of family, and at times, the horrible unspeakable things that people do to each other. My saving grace is always that when I remember that little girl dying I also remember the profound experience of being at the Easter sunrise service. I’m glad that on that morning I made the effort to go. I remember the magnificence of that sunrise there on the side of a mountain and the awe I felt taking it all in.

I experienced two opposite ends of the spectrum of human emotion that day – -wonder and despair, life and death, joy and suffering, breath-taking beauty and profound sadness. I wrap the beautiful memory of the sunrise service around me to protect me from the hurt I felt at the death of that little girl. That memory of the sunrise was the armor I carried into battle that day as I went to do my duty in the ER.

As a nurse or a doctor or anyone who deals with pain and suffering, we must care for ourselves in order to be of service to others. We cannot give water to others from an empty well. We must take time to refill the well–to find our Easter sunrise.

Cindy Bollinger

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