This blog posting is dedicated in loving memory of Hermene O’Neal, who inspired me to follow her footsteps and become a nurse.
The smell of alcohol was so strong, it almost brought tears to my eyes. Patients sat in the waiting room and talked in hushed voices, as they waited their turn to see Dr. Buck.
The time was the mid 1950s. The place was a small town nestled deep in the South Carolina low country. It was a place where doctors went by their first names after their title and women were all “Miss” somebody. My first memories of “Miss Hermene” are from when I was five years old.
Miss Hermene was Dr. Buck’s nurse. (It was also typical in that day to refer to nurses who worked for doctors as “their nurse.” Times have changed. There is no implied possession today!) She wore a white uniform and a nurses cap. Her uniform was crisp and it rustled in a reassuring way when she walked.
I saw Miss Hermene leaving work once and she was wearing a cape over her uniform. Years later, I smiled when I saw Superman on tv. I had already met Superwoman, who had a better looking cape than he did.
Would You Hold My Hand?
The first time I took full note of Miss Hermene was when I had a vascular wart removed from my ring finger on my left hand. This thing grew on my finger and did not go away. It passed through a blood vessel and anytime I put pressure on that finger, it bled.
Finally, Dr. Buck told my parents it needed to be removed with an “electric needle.” Even as an adult, the thought of needles pushed into human skin sounds scary. But adding “electric” in front of the word “needle” was terrifying.
On the given day for the removal, Miss Hermene opened the door to the inner office and said, “Come right on in here, Miss Carolyn. We’ll take care of you.” I wasn’t sure.
She helped me up onto the exam table and talked about a variety of things, while we waited for Dr. Buck. Nothing she said could eradicate my thought processes. Even as a young child, I had a very vivid imagination. So I imagined Dr. Buck coming in with something akin to a machine gun attached to a plug in the wall.
When he arrived, he had a light on what looked like a hair band around his head. He had something in his hand. Since it looked smaller than what I had imagined, I breathed a sigh of relief. But when he asked for my hand, my heart rate sped up. I wanted to go home. I thought I could just live with this thing on my finger. I would be very careful. I was sure I could keep it from ever bleeding again. I started to cry.
Miss Hermene hugged me and then she reached for my right hand. “Carolyn, would you hold my hand? I think I would feel better if you would.”
I looked into those sparkling eyes of compassion. I did not know how I could help her, but in that moment, I wanted to. The seeds that God had already planted in me that would one day grow into being a “helper person” began to sprout.
I grasped Miss Hermene’s hand with my right hand. I was not being restrained in any way. I could have removed my hand at any moment. But I stayed with her because I thought that I was somehow helping her. And in the midst of my conversations with Miss Hermene, Dr. Buck did his work. In a short time, I had a bandage around my finger and I was on my way home.
On the way out the door, Miss Hermene thanked me again for holding her hand.
Soon after that day, I began to pretend I was a nurse. In my room, I bandaged up my dolls and gave them pills and thought of Miss Hermene. My parents gave me a nurses’ kit one Christmas. The kit had a bonus. It came with a cape! It was great! Anytime anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say, “I want to be a nurse.” I never wavered from my stated goal.
In a high school “careers” class, we each got to present information about the profession we had selected. I finished my presentation with the breathless proclamation, “To be a nurse is to walk with God.” That was true. But in my innocence, I never really considered all the places God walked.
The Reality Check To The Dream
My first year in nursing school was spent mainly in “book learning,” but in the second year, we began to have clinical assignments in the hospital. I was about to have a major reality check.
When I walked into the neurological ward, I saw rows of patients with bandaged heads, some whose skulls were attached to the wall by tongs. Some were confused. Some stared vacantly into space. Some were unconscious.
When I walked into the burn unit, I was greeted with agonizing screams and pleas to “just let me die.” I saw severely disfigured outsides covering anguished persons inside.
Orthopedics was no better. Some patients lay in body casts for months, descended into the hell of having an itch no one could scratch. Once active people lay in tractions that would keep them suspended in uncomfortable positions for months.
And there was the morgue, where there were the remains of patients who had died. No one in the medical system had been able to help them. The hospital had been their last stop.
There was suffering like I had never seen in my dreams. No bandages, no pills, no hand holding could make it better. I was not becoming Superwoman. I felt the full impact of powerlessness. Deeper than that was the haunting question of what purpose there was in all this suffering … and what I was supposed to do about it.
I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to be a nurse anymore, unless I could help eliminate suffering. I wanted to go back to my dolls where every story had a happy ending and I felt good and useful.
I thought of my summation of what being a nurse was supposed to be. “To be a nurse is to walk with God.”
“Oh really,” I thought. “Where was He now?”
Almost as soon as I had that thought, I also thought I heard Him, saying, “ Be still and know that I am God. You are not. If you are going to walk with Me, you are going to have to hold My Hand. You have a choice. You can choose to hold My Hand and walk with Me … or you can walk away.”
The decision was not instant. But when I made the decision, it was lasting. I understood I was not going to get answers to every question I had about suffering. I understood I was not going to be able to “save” everyone. I understood there were going to be things that pierced me to my very heart, but I also understood I was going to be with Him. He would tell me what to do. I stayed. I graduated from The Medical University of South Carolina on June 27, 1970 as a nurse.
The Far Reaching Effects of One Influential Life
How far does a person’s influence go? Miss Hermene was a person, who was simply being true to her calling, as she worked throughout her life as a nurse. God, inside of her, directed her steps. Many of those steps she knew about. But she stepped way beyond the bounds of a small town. I am sure she influenced more people than me. Probably, they lived out lives she may have never known she influenced.
Having been inspired to be a nurse like Miss Hermene, I not only finished nursing school, but I went on to a career in nursing.
I worked as a school nurse. I worked in hospitals in psychiatry, acute care, long term care and hospice. I worked as a staff nurse and as a Nurse Manager. I retired and had another career in teaching nursing students. I published in professional journals.
The first time I was asked to be a guest at a local elementary school, a little girl asked me, “Why did you decide to become a nurse?” With tears in my eyes, I told her about Miss Hermene and what the Power of Compassion could do. After that, I told Miss Hermene’s story to hundreds of other people.
But the greatest joy was that I got to tell Miss Hermene about her influence on my life. I not only told her, but I wrote it for her. She was so pleased, and surprised. She was amazed that I was telling her story to people she would never even meet.
One of my students came back at the end of one of my classes, and gave me the most touching letter I ever received. At the end of it, she wrote, “Mrs. Jones, I want to be a nurse, just like you.”
You see, it turns out that Life is a marathon race. You have the torch for awhile and it is up to you to run your part of the race as well as you can, for as far as you can, and keep the light burning strong.
Where did it all start? With The One Who gave us The Light.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said,
“I am The Light of the world.
Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness,
but will have The Light of Life.”
And He, Who is The Light, hands us the torch and says,
“You are The Light of the world …
let your Light shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify Your Father in Heaven.”
Hold My Hand!
Sometimes we see The Face of God in those Who carry His Light, and we come to know we are the next to carry it. On a day in my life, when I was afraid, Miss Hermene asked me to hold her hand.
In allowing me to make the choice to hold her hand, I found a Power that reached beyond that moment. From that connection, God called to me in a way I did not yet understand … but now do. Since the work was being done on my left hand, it was with my right hand that I held Miss Hermene’s hand.
For I AM the LORD your God
Who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you,
“Do not fear;
I will help you.”
I thank Him and praise Him for allowing me to know He was there, is here and shall ever be with me. To learn more about knowing Who He is, I invite you to read my latest book, If You Only Knew … Who I AM! More information can be found on my web site:
What a beautiful testimony Carolyn. Aside from years of nursing, your gift of writing is tremendous.
Wanda Goerz Sent from my iPhone