AS NURSES,: we sometimes assume that if a patient can't talk, he or she can't hear. It is easy to forget that patients still hear when they are not talking or responsive. That assumption became my touchstone for personal growth: never assume. My lesson in this was shatteringly revealed many years ago by a patient I'll call Gertrude.


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Years ago, I had just obtained my certified nursing assistant (CNA) license, was working in a long-term care facility, and thought I knew everything. As part of my care assignment, I was charged with the care of a 30-year-old woman I'll call Gertrude. Gertrude was a quadriplegic as the result of a car accident. The staff, even the charge nurse, told me Gertrude couldn't talk. Moreover, once her husband had dropped her off at the facility, he had never returned.


Filled with compassion, I vowed I would provide my best care for this woman. For 8 months I bathed, dressed, and fed Gertrude, all the while carrying on a one-way conversation. I wanted to ease her sense of loneliness and let her know I cared about her. Christ teaches, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13, NIV). As persons made in God's image (Genesis 1:26-27), we are in everything to act toward others as we would want them to act toward us (Matthew 7:12). As nurses, we have a special opportunity to fulfill Christ's call to "do for others."


As I cared for Gertrude, I was reminded of Jesus' words in Matthew 25:40 about feeding, clothing, and taking care of strangers: "The king will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me'."


Throughout those long months of care, Gertrude never responded. Not once did she utter a single sound. Yet God allowed me to see his image in her as I carefully tended to her needs. I remained faithful in trying to give the best of care and to treat her with dignity and as a friend.

Figure. It is humbli... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. It is humbling to sense God's presence when we act selflessly.

When it was time to leave this position and move on, I made the rounds saying goodbye to my patients. I saved Gertrude for last. Entering her room, I said, "Gertrude, my wife and I are moving away. I'll miss you."


After a moment of silence she began to speak!! She said, "I wish I was your wife."


Stunned, I replied "Gertrude!! I didn't know you could talk!!"


She looked straight into my eyes and said clearly, "I don't talk much."


What an understatement!! I told her I was flattered by her comment but loved my wife very much.


From then on, I never assumed a patient could not hear. That day I also discovered it is humbling to sense God's presence when we act selflessly.