Article Content

His face was smooth, masculine and black. He looked sad and hungry. His stomach bulged. He had IVs everywhere, and a gastric tube was planted in the lower left quadrant of his abdomen. The plastic that surrounded the g-tube appeared hard and inflexible, causing him to feel every move. His skin was shiny, but dry, looking like a dry mirror.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

He had not eaten since before the self-inflicted gunshot wound. Even before the shot, he had not been eating well. He'd been on drugs and stealing, even from his grandmother's life savings of seven hundred dollars. He had taken it all.


He looked pitiful as he started to tell me his story. The trouble began at sixteen, when he started hanging with the guys and was introduced to cocaine. He had never tried real drugs before. Of course, everyone in the hood had smoked marijuana, but that was nothing compared to this. The brothers were all looking at him.


"What's up with you, man?" one asked. "You scared?"


"No," he had replied, "Is your mama scared?" They all laughed.


Feeling man enough to try, he sniffed. It felt good to be one of the brothers. From then on, he was part of the in-crowd.


At first his drug habit had started off cheap. He spent five dollars here and there. But eventually his habit increased, and he could no longer afford it. That's when the lying and stealing began.


The need for money had caused the terrible accident. He badly needed a fix-so bad that he'd begun shaking. He was nineteen, with no job and no money. Without the drugs, he felt like he would die. He had to get the drug money. That's when he had remembered his grandmother's money. He'd used her debit card before and remembered the number. Quickly he found her purse and took out the card.


"Where you going, Billy?" his grand-mother asked.


"Out to mind my business," was his rude reply.


Running to the machine, he took out seven hundred dollars and spent it within an hour on cocaine.


He felt high-until morning. Then he felt stupid. The next morning the bank notified his grandmother that her account was delinquent. The family jumped on Billy.


"They were really mad at me," he said. "I couldn't face my grandmother. She was crying and asking me why I would do such a thing. Because she had raised me, I felt I needed to end it all. I went to my bedroom and got my gun. I said my prayers, stuck the gun into my stomach and pulled the trigger."


"At first I felt a little warm, and then the pain started. I thought I was going to die. My sister heard the gunshot, ran in and saw the blood."


"What have you done, fool?" she screamed.


"That's how it happened. Now here I am, wishing I was dead," Billy said.


I talked with him for hours. Since I was his primary nurse, we talked over days and weeks. Other nurses on the staff referred to Billy as "Gina's baby."


If he acted up, I heard about it and would set him straight the next day. He never acted out while I was on duty. I was only a few years older than Billy. I'd been out of nursing school for three years, and he reminded me of a little brother. We talked about church and God's love. He promised that he'd go to church when he was released from the hospital.


Billy was hungry and depressed in the hospital. He looked and longed and thought. I did the same. He had expressed deep feelings of insecurity, stupidity and distrust of himself. I listened and felt his pain. I longed to help him out of the drug-dependent state, but I couldn't do it. It was something he had to do himself. I could only listen and support.


One day he made a request-for an orange. He was NPO.


He begged me, "Please, Gina, you know I ain't had nothin' to eat in four weeks. Just let me suck on an orange. I promise I won't tell."


My heart sank. I'll trust him just this once. It was true; he had not eaten since the day he tried to kill himself.


I walked to his bed, a golden, succulent orange in my hand.


He smiled. I left him with strict instructions. "Billy, do not bite the orange. Only suck on it. Your surgery will not allow you to digest food. You still have a colostomy."


"I won't. I won't!!" he promised.


Believing him, I left the room, promising to return in fifteen minutes.


When I came back, I didn't see the orange.


"Where's the orange, Billy?" I was hoping he had thrown it away.


"I ate it," he said.


"How could you? We talked about this!! What am I supposed to tell the head nurse?" I asked.


I left him with strict instructions. "Billy, do not bite the orange. Only suck on it."


He could only whimper, "I'm sorry."


I was ready to tear his head off, but it was my fault. After much thought, I shared the situation with the unit secretary. She was known for being a cool thinker and for offering good advice to young nurses. I approached her. "Carolyn, I've got a problem."


She carried on with her work, while I explained my predicament. All the while, she entered information into the computer. Then she said, "Child, you'd better tell Mac. Don't worry; you won't get into trouble." Then she laughed at my lack of insight in giving Billy the orange. She added, "Girl, don't you know that there is no honor among thieves?" She was right, as always.


I went to find Mac, the head nurse. Mac was sharp and ran a tight ship. "Mac," I began, "I've got a problem." She listened, something she did well. She was cool in that way.


After I poured out my story, she said, "Okay." She knew I would never do that again. Then, smiling, she said, "Check his colostomy bag in about thirty minutes."


Why didn't I think of that? Sure enough, the orange was retrieved from the colostomy bag!! Joy and relief flooded over me.


During the rest of Billy's stay, he got lots of ice chips-but no more oranges!!


Billy left the hospital and went to a drug rehab program. He joined a church and got married. For some reason, he never forgot about me. For years he visited the hospital and the ICU where I worked. When I quit working there, he left messages with the unit secretary to find out how I was.


The biggest surprise came while I was at church one Saturday. Billy remembered where I went to church. He had not seen me in years and decided to find me. As I walked out of church, someone called, "Yo, Gina!!"


It was Billy. He had come. After a smile and a hug, he said, "I won't ever forget what you did for me, and I will never stop loving oranges."


We laughed and laughed. I thanked Jesus for that smooth, black, masculine face. He was smiling. So was I.