Joy Oakey

Grace Nichol, RN



Grace Nichol, R.N. noticed the hush that fell over the small group of nursing staff as she entered the break room. She knew they must have been talking about her, but she kept a slight smile on her face and her posture erect as she strode toward her locker. Grabbing her wallet, she walked out the door, heading for the cafeteria. Alone.

  1. had started working at Lakeview Memorial Hospital just three weeks earlier. Though she knew she should be friendlier toward her co-workers, she just wasn’t ready to start new relationships. “I’m better off by myself,” she thought.

The unit where Grace worked was an orthopedic unit where most patients were recovering from joint replacement surgery. Occasionally, however, when the hospital was full, patients with other diagnoses were placed there.

  1. Grace returned from lunch, she learned she would have a new patient: a transfer from the Intensive Care Unit with head and chest trauma. The young man had been in a horrific car accident. “Oh no,” Grace thought. “This could be so hard.”

Efficient and experienced, she gathered equipment: the plastic board for sliding the patient onto the bed, a heart monitor and an IV pole. Respiratory therapy


staff would take care of the oxygen and suction supplies. Then she left the room to check on her other patients.

  1. Bacon’s room was next door and Grace knew it was time for her pain med. She peeked her head in and asked if she needed it. “I appreciate you, Grace” said Bacon. “You seem to know exactly what I need.”

“Thanks, Dot”, replied Grace. “I’m here for you and my other patients. Actually, you all keep me going.” As she gave Dot her medication, the intercom bell rang and Suzie, the unit secretary, said, “Grace, your patient has arrived in room 104.” Grace straightened her posture and planted a slight smile. Suddenly visions of blood and shattered glass flashed before her as she entered room 104. “God help me.”

  1. Moore was a thirty-year-old husband to stay-at home mom Julie and father to three-year-old Mark and one-year-old Molly. A month earlier he was driving home from work on Route 202 when a sudden snow squall descended on the highway. Blinded, some drivers stopped in the middle of the road, while others kept going, afraid of being hit. had been anxious, driving slowly and steadily while trying to see the pavement and what lay in front of him. He had no way of knowing that a multi-car pile-up occurred ahead of him while two tractor trailers barreled along behind him. The snow was so thick he didn’t see the twisted pile of cars until he was merely yards away: too late to stop. He heard himself yell and felt the sudden impact of his airbag and

heard the crushing metal of a truck slamming his car from behind. That was the last time he was conscious.

  1. stood a little farther from the bed than usual as she assessed her patient. She slowed her breathing and inched closer. She observed that Tom’s head was still bandaged from his craniotomy, that he had a stomach tube for feedings and his body was covered with old bruises. Though he had not yet regained consciousness, doctors were pleased with his CAT scans and hopeful he would waken. At times, he moaned and moved his extremities spontaneously. “At least he didn’t have his family in the car,” she thought, as she blinked away a fleeting memory of a toddler in a yellow dress. Then switched into efficient nurse mode, taking Tom’s vital signs and checking his tube feedings.
  2. evening, as she drove home to her new apartment, she thought about Tom and wondered how his family was coping. Interspersed with her own memories, her throat tightened as she imagined that this month had been the worst in wife Julie’s life.

Grace’s apartment held little in the way of personality. She had brought very few possessions from her former home, only utilitarian furniture and necessities. A sofa lay along one wall with a television on a stand across from it. A side table with a lamp was the only other furniture in the living room. No decorations were in sight. A storage locker in her former town held more personal items and photos, in case she ever felt up to seeing them. Not yet. She went through the motions of fixing dinner and watching a little tv. Tomorrow would be another day. One day at a time.

Walking past Tom’s door to the conference room the next day, Grace noticed a

young woman by his side. The woman stood gazing at him and rubbing his arm. Grace went to hear the report on how her patients had fared the night before. She was glad to hear that Dot Bacon would be going to Rehab today and that Tom had remained stable. She wondered if Julie would still be there later, when she took care of Tom.

Room 104 was her second stop and Grace hesitated as she took a deep breath before going in. Julie looked up with a blank expression while Grace introduced herself and told her what she would be doing. Julie nodded and looked back at her husband. While Grace worked, she glanced often at Julie, but sensed the woman did not want to talk. That was fine with Grace.

As the days went by, Julie began opening up to this quiet, efficient nurse.

“Grace, this is the hardest thing I have ever been through. I don’t know if Tom will ever wake up or if he’ll be a vegetable. My parents are helping me, but I need to be there for my kids too. I just don’t know what to do.”

“Julie, it must be so very difficult for you. I’m so sorry. I want you to know I’m here to listen. None of us can really know how another person is going to get through their hardest times, but I hope you’ll feel free to talk. “

“Mark has stopped asking when Daddy is coming home,” Julie said. “It makes me sad, but maybe it‘s better for my little boy. I have to go back to work, too, but not until I see how Tom progresses.”

Grace nodded, saying, “Oh Julie, it’s just so hard,” placing her hand lightly on Julie’s shoulder. “It’s just about impossible to make important decisions in the midst of so much trauma, but you’re working through it.”

A couple of weeks later, she heard Julie cry out from the room, “Grace, Grace, come here. Tom’s waking up!”

Grace ran into the room to see Tom looking at his wife and lifting his arm

toward her face. His words were unintelligible, but he was trying to talk. Julie had tears streaming down her face. And so did Grace. Grace walked over to Julie and rubbed her shoulder. “This is major progress, Julie. I’m so glad for you, so very glad for you,” she said.

Later that day, Grace entered Tom’s room, and Julie stood up to give her a hug. “Grace, you’ve spent time listening to me and saying the right words. I also noticed you had tears in your eyes when Tom woke up. I’ve always felt you knew what I’m going through. I’m thinking something happened to you. Am I right?”

Grace took in a sharp breath as her shoulders slumped. She hung her head as she nodded yes.

“You might have heard on the news a little over a year ago about a family that was in a crash when the driver lost control on the Blue Route. They flipped over and over down an embankment. Only the driver survived. That was me.”

“Oh my God, Grace. I do remember. I felt so bad for that mom. I can’t believe it was you.”

“Julie, I don’t talk about it much. My mom listens, but it’s very hard for her too. My in-laws blame me and don’t speak to me. Former friends have drifted away. Therapy helps some, but it’s going to take a long time.”

“I just can’t imagine, Grace,” said Julie. “I have no words.”

The two looked at each other sorrowfully, tears in both women’s eyes.

  1. into her car later, Grace felt emotions swell up within her and overtake her. For the first time in many months, she gave into heavy, heaving sobs. “My husband, my baby,” she thought over and over. For the millionth time she recalled the events of that night.

The family had visited her husband Mark’s family in Pittsburg for the weekend and were heading home to Media on Sunday evening. Halfway home, Mark became very nauseated from a stomach virus and had to pull over. They stopped for a while at the Midway Service Plaza on the Turnpike, but Mark’s symptoms got progressively worse. Both had to get to work the next morning. Julie felt a little tired, but she grabbed another coffee for the remaining three-hour drive. Worried about Mark and distracted by her two- year-old daughter Rose, she didn’t realize how tired she was. For just a second, she fell asleep. The next thing she knew her family was screaming, as the car crashed and rolled down an embankment, slamming into trees and rocks and coming to a crushing halt on its side, Mark’s side. The roof had crushed her baby Rose on the way down.

“How could I fall asleep,” she thought. “How could I kill my family?” The vision of Rose, so beautiful in the new yellow dress she wore that day drifted before her, and she wept.

It was a while before she could start the car. But finally, the sobbing eased, and

  1. drove home.

When Grace entered her apartment that night, she gazed around as if seeing it for the first time. Its emptiness seeped into her, and she shuddered. For a moment, she wistfully pictured her favorite painting hanging over the sofa in her former home. It was a painting of a young woman sitting astride a beautiful horse. The woman gazed peacefully across an early spring meadow of grasses and small mounds of soft snow. She looked serene. The painting reminded Grace of her childhood, when she fell in love with horses and spent her happiest moments with them.

“Maybe, I’ll ask Mom to get it for me from the locker. I can’t go there yet myself. But I could hang the painting here.”

Then she called for a dinner delivery, sat on the couch and nodded sleepily in front of the television. A slight smile floated across her face.

All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of Joy Oakey.
Published on on 05/06/2019.


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