Nurses

by Gabriel Urbina

Preface

Nurses is the last of four related stories. The other stories are: 1. Beatriz; 2. Before Beatriz; 3. Something About George.


I was in the hospital, where I was going to be for a couple of days. I was there for a "routine procedure." Well, it may have been routine for the doctors, but it wasn't routine for me. Anyway, I knew I was going to be all right.

My cousin Victor showed up for a visit. I was glad to see him. We are about the same age, and we grew up together. We had not seen each other much as adults, because Vic had moved to Alaska, where he lived and worked for a long time. At the time of his visit, he was in the process of moving back to Virginia.

Midway through his visit, Vic said, "Dan, what is thing you have for nurses?"

"What do you mean, Vic?"

"Well, I would try to make points with the young and cute nurses, and I would remain respectfully distant from the rest of them; but you look at all of them with smiling eyes, with admiration; I would even say adoration. I'm curious, that's all."

"Well, the explanation would require a long answer."

"We have plenty of time. I'm all ears."

"OK. It all really begins with my being drafted into the Army. There is a very old joke about the Army. A sergeant asks a group of new recruits 'who can type?' Several recruits raise their hands. They are all sent to clean latrines. For me, this is a metaphor for placing people in the wrong jobs.

"When I was drafted, I was hoping to be assigned to administration or finance. I was working in the bookkeeping department of the power company, and I had taken several accounting courses in the evening, at the local junior college.

"Toward the end of basic training, all the draftees, one by one, were called to the company commander's office. This was the man who was going to decide my future, and the future of all the others. I expressed my interest in administration, based on my experience and coursework, but the officer shook his head, and said I didn't have the scores in the Army's placement tests. He said my options were tank mechanics school or the medical corps.

"As you know, I didn't have any mechanical ability whatsoever. The medical corps didn't appeal to me either. I was a sickly child; a living catalog of childhood diseases. I was even in the hospital a couple of times. I was left, early in life, with a strong dislike of hospitals and doctors. I had to overcome those feelings, because there was a third unspoken option, the least appealing to me, combat arms. So, I told the master of my destiny that I wanted to be assigned to the medical corps.

"The Vietnam war broke out just as I was finishing the medical corps school. I was sent there, assigned to a field hospital, where part of my job was to help carry wounded men in stretchers, from the helicopters to the hospital. It goes without saying, I saw a lot of blood.

"Vic, you know I was never a very religious man, but there I was trying desperately to keep the little faith I had, maybe a product of my three years in parochial school. What really pulled me through was seeing this gentle-looking, not very tall, apparently not physically strong, Japanese American woman. Everybody called her Lt. Bea. Her first name was Beatriz. Her name tag read Miyahara. Everybody looked up to her. Seeing her in action made me ask myself 'Where does this woman find her strength?' She showed me what inner strength was. She defined for me, without words, what caring, tenderness, and compassion were.

" I have admired nurses ever since. While I'm still not a very religious man, I do need to believe in something. I believe in goodness, and that is what nurses represent to me. I enjoy being surrounded by them, because I feel I'm surrounded by goodness."

Vic said, "Wow, I guess I got my answer. I knew, in general terms, what had happened to you during those years; but you filled in all the blanks for me. Thanks."

"I enjoyed telling you all this. I hope during your next visit, while I'm recovering, you can tell me about your adventures in Alaska."

"Will do, pal."

Visiting hours were over. As Victor was leaving, one of my nurses was coming in. Victor gave her a big smile and left.

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