1. Snyder, Tina RN, BSN


Like my childhood heroine, Mrs. Betty also had amazing powers.


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IT WAS HALLOWEEN, and the heat was just starting to lift its heavy finger off our small Mississippi town. One week earlier, our office manager, Kay, had surprised me with a package. When I opened it, I found a red, white, and blue costume with a gold W on the front. Wonder Woman, the heroine of my childhood!! How many times had I faced my older brother in a duel wearing my Wonder Woman pajamas?


Everyone at the clinic where I worked knew how I loved my hero. I had the doll, the mouse pad, and the TV show's first season on DVD. But I'd never had the costume as an adult. No one throws costume parties in the rural south. And even if they did, I wouldn't have shown up as scantily clad as Lynda Carter in the TV show.


But this outfit was made for me, a conservative mother of two. It was a full body suit, yet still had the famous emblem and was complete with tiara, lasso of truth, silver bullet deflector bracelets, and red boots.


I laughed out loud at the gift. "Thank you," I said to Kay, as I wondered what in the world I'd do with it.


Then Kay reminded me that I was surrounded by pediatric and adult patients who'd love to have a good laugh at their nurse. Halloween would be the perfect day to show them that I really had a sense of humor.


As I donned the black wig that Halloween morning, I almost backed out. But my fun-loving side urged me on. Clad in my boots and silver bullet deflectors, I was ready for work.


Making it better with a smile

I'd been working in this clinic for 10 years, and all our patients knew that my way of dealing with bad news was to try to make it all better with a smile. I always try to help patients see the positive side of their situation. I learned this from a handful of patients who will live in my memory forever.


On that day, my first patient happened to be one of those patients. Mrs. Betty, a retired schoolteacher, had a history of ovarian cancer. She was a longtime patient of ours, and I guess you could say she was my favorite.


This was her second time to face cancer, and her prognosis wasn't good. She'd already battled several infections and terrible adverse reactions from chemotherapy. Yet despite her troubles, she'd always inquire about my two boys. As I flushed her intravenous line or took her blood pressure, I'd ask how she felt. She'd turn the conversation back to me. Was I working too hard? Had I had lunch?


I'd heard from other patients that even through her own illness, Mrs. Betty was always helping others in their time of need. One of these people was a woman named Ramona. I knew Ramona through our clinic as well as from church. She had a long history of drug abuse, which had left her with mental and physical problems. She said whatever she was thinking, and sometimes her comments were inappropriate. Yet she never seemed to notice that she made others uncomfortable.


My attempts at conversation with her had always ended badly, so I stopped talking to her except for making inquiries about her medications and symptoms when she visited the clinic. I avoided her if I saw her in town.


One week, Mrs. Betty had been very ill and came to the clinic several times. Ramona called to check on her. I told her I couldn't discuss another patient with her and suggested she call Mrs. Betty herself in a day or two. She ignored my suggestion and continued to talk. She told me that Mrs. Betty and her husband had driven her to appointments and had taken her to buy groceries many times. She said Mrs. Betty always came when she called and gave her time and money over and over again. Ramona said she wouldn't be around if it weren't for Mrs. Betty.


As I listened to her talk about this wonderful woman, I knew it was true. Mrs. Betty had been very kind to me as well, but I guess I considered myself easy to be kind to. Ramona represented tough love.


I thought about how we always talked about showing concern for all of our patients. The physician I work for once said in a staff meeting that we should treat all our patients like they were a "Mrs. Betty." But did we really try to make everyone feel better-or just those who made it easy for us?


Mrs. Betty believed in God and considered it her duty to care for those around her. She didn't talk about this belief to me; she demonstrated it.


Halloween hijinks

On that cool Halloween morning, Mrs. Betty wore a brightly colored scarf on her bald head. She greeted me (as usual) with a wide smile. Her smile was, in fact, the biggest part of her small frame. She gave me and my costume a good looking over, then thoughtfully asked what had made me decide to dress up like Wonder Woman today.


"Because I thought it would be fun," I answered.

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"Maybe you'll get a smile from someone who wouldn't have smiled otherwise," she said. After a moment she added, "Yes, everyone should do something for that very reason."


She put her fingers on my black wig and caressed my long locks. Then she laughed her beautiful laugh.


As I took a blood specimen, she reminded me to pray for a sick friend we both knew. On her way out, I heard her tell a child in the next room that Wonder Nurse was on her way in to see her. Our pediatric patients had no idea who Wonder Woman was or why their blond nurse was wearing a black wig, but they all smiled and laughed. They asked me if my feet hurt in those boots.


Mrs. Betty died later that year. Her passing reminded me of that morning and why we are nurses. She personified quiet strength. It was a wonder to watch her face her illness with grace and dignity.


Isn't it all about healing the soul as well as the body? Isn't it about helping someone else feel happy? Sometimes the only power we have over disease is a smile. An illness can take our strength, but not our ability to laugh at a grown woman wearing silver bullet deflectors!!