There are patients in your career that you never forget. Mr. Lemon Webb was one of those patients. Ten years ago, tired of the hectic pace of a telemetry unit, I was ready for a change, A friend of mine was working on our hospital-based skilled nursing unit and seemed to enjoy it. I applied for a transfer and became the day shift charge nurse on that unit. I really did not know what to expect. Patients dressed in street clothes ate regular diets and stayed on the unit at least a couple of weeks. Physicians visited infrequently, the paperwork was different, and there were mazes of regulations to learn. It was different, but I liked it.
After I had been on the unit a few weeks, I met Mr. Webb. He was an elderly gentleman from our town. He had developed pneumonia at home and had to be admitted to the hospital. After his condition stabilized, he was transferred to the skilled nursing unit. Once on the unit, he became well known and was loved by unit staff and literally everyone who met him. He took a lot of kidding about his "fruity" name and chuckled along with us. One day he was humming a song and I asked him what the name of the song was. When he told me, I remembered hearing it as a teenager at church. We talked about the words and tune as he began to sing it. Although he was short of breath, his voice rang out with the purity and clarity of an angel. Visitors, staff, and other patients stopped to listen. When he finished singing (and the applause died down), he told me he had written the song many years ago.
From that moment on, we were friends. He had scrapbooks and momentos brought in from home. We gathered around his bed as he told of his adventures from the 1920s to the 1940s as he traveled with an all-Black singing and acting troop. He shared photos of himself and friends, playbills, and stories of that era. He talked with a twinkle in his eye about the "Porgy and Bess" production they did, the performances for special events, and the fun he had with his fellow troop members. With a more somber note, he spoke of the prejudices and hardships of being a black entertainer during that time. He told us, "No matter how hard something is, if your heart is in it, you can do it."
He seemed to get a little stronger each day. On rounds one morning a nursing assistant called for me stat in his room. Our friend who had taught us so much lay there lifeless. We called a code and worked diligently through our tears to save him. He was resuscitated and transferred to the critical care unit. We took turns visiting him every day. Finally he was weaned from the ventilator and readmitted to our unit. He eventually regained his strength and independence and was discharged hofne. It was a happy day, but we all knew we would miss his inspirational presence in our daily lives.
Several months later, we held a patient reunion and he came back to join the celebration. As we sat around and talked, I sang to him the old Patsy Cline tune "Craz.y." We laughed as Ke fanned himself with -a handkerchief, pretended to swoon, and posed for a few photographs. We said goodbye for the last time that day.
I often think of Mr. Webb as I care for my geriatric patientrahd wonder if he ever knew how much he meant to us. He changed me as a person and a nurse. I now try to envision myself as the person looking out at this world through dimly lit eyes, wrinkled skin, and a frail body and imagine how I will feel when it is my turn. Mr. Webb taught me to look past the frailty of the person he was now and see through his memories the vibrant person he had been. He showed me tMe tvalue of reminiscing and memories, and that who you once were is still who you are, despite the ravages of time.
Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.