As I walked up the dusty, junk-covered path to an old, decaying shack, I was literally overcome with the hopeless poverty that I saw. The roof of the little house was caved in on one side. The broken windows had been flimsily covered with old newspapers. Broken glass, nails, old cans, and other debris made a drab yard covering. Torn lace curtains hung loosely at the windows, and my eyes caught the sight of soot-covered walls and floors inside. About 15 to 20 cats scampered before me as I walked up the path. As I began knocking on the weather-beaten door, I thought fleetingly of the comfortable life I had grown accustomed to at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, longing momentarily for the security of the campus. But now here I was, a student nurse many kilometers from Provo, not quite sure if I was ready for the challenge that had been given me.
It had all begun several weeks earlier in my public health study class. As part of the course, we were all required to gain practical experience as student nurses. I had planned on working in Salt Lake City, but on our first day, my instructor stated that student nurses were needed to help staff a public health office in a small town. I felt a sudden prodding within myself to volunteer. I tried to stifle it but couldn’t and before long found myself on my way to a new home and new responsibilities.
The day after I arrived, I reported to two registered nurses in the public health office, the only two public health nurses in the entire county. To say that they were busy was an understatement. I saw the files that represented hundreds of cases, all in need of some kind of medical help. With a feeling of fear, I began to realize that there would be no time for detailed observation and learning. I would just have to start to work and hope for the best.
My supervisor assigned me three cases and then, looking at me thoughtfully, said, “I have one more case for you, but I am a little hesitant about it.” She held a thick, yellowed file in her hand.
“This old woman has a severe medical problem, and she refuses all help. She has done so for the past two years, and I am weary of trying to help her. If you feel you would like to try, and promise not to be disappointed if you fail, I will give you this case.” I felt great sympathy for this old woman I had never seen, and I knew I had to try.
Reading her file, I discovered that she was in her late 70’s and had injured her right leg in a crushing accident some years before. No bones had been broken, but vital vessels and muscles had been damaged and mangled. Although treatment had been obtained, circulation to her lower leg was left impaired. Periodically the blood would stagnate, collect waste products, put pressure on surrounding tissue, and thus suffocate or eat away the healthy tissue in the area, causing leg ulcers to form.
This condition had plagued her until she had finally gone to see a doctor. He was a good doctor but had been insensitive and rough. Because of this one unfortunate incident, she became very frightened and resolved never to see another doctor. The physician had not had a chance to complete his treatments, and as a result, her leg had become very painful, infected, and useless. It was covered with large, pus filled ulcers. It drained bright red blood and dead, yellow-black tissue, and the flesh was rotting in places.
The old woman was a recluse, and her only real contact with the rest of the world was through a neighbor girl who was paid to run errands and do shopping. Other people had tried to help, but the old woman was afraid and would not see anyone.
Still, when I went to meet her that first day, I was not really prepared for the ill, bent old woman with long, gray, disheveled hair who hobbled to the door. She barely gave me time to tell her who I was before she ordered me out, declaring that she wanted all the nurses to leave her alone. But I knew that I couldn’t. While at her home I had detected an odor that I had known only once before, but it is something I never forgot. She was developing gangrene.
The supervisor confirmed my diagnosis and wanted me off the case. She told me that the old woman might only live a few weeks, and if she died while a student was on the case, the county attorney might interrogate me, questioning my competency as a nurse. She said she would take over the responsibility now. Somehow I couldn’t accept that the old woman was going to have her life end in such a painful and lonely way. I pleaded with my supervisor for one more week to try, and miraculously she agreed.
The second day the old woman let me in, and we talked about everything but her problem. I went home and cried. I felt sure I would never be able to convince her of her need to seek help.
The third day I visited her again and confronted her with the fact that she was going to die if she did not receive treatment. She didn’t even seem to care, certain that she had nothing to live for.
I returned to my apartment, feeling very discouraged. What could I do when she refused to be helped? I had nowhere to turn except to prayer. I had prayed for her before, but this day my roommate knelt beside me in sincere concern, and together we fervently prayed to the Lord, pleading for wisdom and guidance.
The next few days passed uneventfully. I tried to have faith, and I prayed continually. On the fifth day the answer came. I suddenly knew what to do. No voices, no visions, no suggestions from within or without came to me. I just knew what to do.
I put my plan together and rushed over to the old woman’s home. Her eyes sparkled as I showed her the foaming hydrogen peroxide I had brought with me. She was completely impressed and asked if they would use painless medications and treatments like this one at the hospital. I assured her they would be very careful to make her stay as pleasant as possible. I made a quick visit to the hospital to tell them that this old woman, who had such a great fear of doctors, might soon be coming.
The next day I had to return to Provo for the weekend. I didn’t want to leave her, but it was made easier by a loving and concerned neighbor, the mother of the little girl who brought groceries for the old woman. She was delighted with the change that was beginning in the woman. She promised she would do all she could to help.
When I returned, I found that my elderly friend had had the courage to enter the hospital. The whole county health office was celebrating. I ran to the old woman’s hospital room. Her clean, shining face greeted me with a warm smile. “I came to the hospital. You convinced me,” she said. Then she asked me what church I belonged to. When I replied that I was a Latter-day Saint, she said, “I knew it. I knew you were sent to me from the first day that I saw you. There was a light in your face that I had noticed in others of your faith. I had to put my trust in you.”
Just try to imagine the joy that enveloped my soul! God had accomplished in one week what others had been trying to do for two years. I had never known such feelings of relief. Her leg was completely healed in three months’ time. The LDS ward in her area remodeled her house and fixed up her yard as a service project. The missionaries came to visit her, and she was baptized soon after.
She now attends Sunday meetings, including Relief Society, regularly, and her joy in living has returned. How grateful I am to have come to know and love this daughter of our Father in Heaven. Through my experiences with her, I have learned that with continued faith and effort, you can find great spiritual rewards. And when you do, you will never be the same again.