“A physically nondescript young nurse in her twenties, she moved with the confidence of a veteran who knew exactly what she was doing. It was her voice, though, that stood out the most. Gentle and firm, it was oddly familiar, and provided surprising comfort. It had a quality that put me at ease the moment I heard it; like a favorite song from a long time ago.” (from The Color of Rain)
When my wife Cathy lay dying in a gray and lifeless room at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, I stood at her bedside, helpless. At that moment an angel appeared, in the form of a nurse. She told us to call her Christina. In an instant we felt comforted. Recognizing that I needed to be a part of Cathy’s care, what little there was left, she simply allowed me to be. She called us by our first names. She stepped in when an insulate doctor flaunted his ignorance. In the midst of cancer’s horrific assault, she brought gentleness into the room. It was simply amazing.
Christina went off her shift just a few hours before Cathy passed. I asked a nurse to write her name for me on a scratch piece of paper as I had the notion of sending her something as a thank you. I never did. All I had was a name on a piece of paper. No address, no phone number. So I took the piece of paper and put it under the clear cover on my desk. I see it every day. For 5 years, 8 months and 20 days now, I have looked at her name and said a small prayer; that she is still in nursing, caring for others and that somehow, in some way, she might know what she meant to me.
Last week a friend, Kay, who also is the mother of a former basketball player of mine sent me an email. She congratulated me on the book. She also said this:
“I have worked at RO Beaumont as a nurse for 32 years. In my current administrative role, I felt a calling, need, desire (and have the means and opportunity – gee, I’m thinking divine intervention here)…..to find Nurse Christina. She is, as you described, the way a nurse should be. The way, we want all nurses, especially Beaumont nurses, to be. With the help of 3 nursing managers (all of whom I told, ‘just read chapter 21 and call me back’), we found Christina.”
Yesterday I was invited to Beaumont Hospital to speak at a meeting of several hundred staff members, including the President of the hospital. I told them that, whether or not they were successful at fixing the various illnesses they treat, they always have the opportunity to soften hearts and touch souls.
When I was done, Christina was brought up to the stage where we hugged for a very long time. She was honored by her peers as an example of how all nurses should be.
I had the chance to speak with Christina afterwards for quite a while. She told me that she remembered Cathy and remembered leaving the shift that day wondering if she had done enough. I told her about that little slip of paper on my desk.
My friend Kay, the hospital administrator, wrote me this morning, thanking me for coming. She tells me that this story will impact how care is given at the hospital. She also said that Christina’s life has been changed.
Later tonight I will go to practice with my new team and forge all new relationships with new guys – and their families. I love the wins and losses, the excitement of Friday nights, the timeout huddles and the last second buzzer beaters. But that’s not why I coach. I coach because it connects me. To enthusiastic athletes and their families. To smart and dedicated coaches. And to a community of people who in countless ways, take care of each other. I coached Kay’s son years ago. He was one of the good ones. Funny, smart, respectful. (And a wicked pro-hop finish when he drove into the lane!) Now, years later, his mom connects to me again through circumstances beyond comprehension and provides me with a moment for which I will never be able to thank her sufficiently.
I am so thankful for these connections. They are woven into the fabric of my life and create an inspired pattern of unexpected grace. And I am humbled by it all.
By the way…
The little slip of paper is still on my desk. Today is 5 years, 8 months and 21 days. I have all new prayers for my friend Christina. She told me that she now is married to a man named Dan. And they have two little boys. Matt and Drew.