His name is Farouk. Of the scores of nurses who I met during a total of 13 day’s passed at two different hospitals, Farouk is the one who I’ve chosen to begin with.
I would put him in his late 30’s, balding, with thick eyebrows and a soft, slow demeanor. His French was the French of the Morocco of his birth.
I had Farouk as my nurse for the last two or three days before leaving the Montreal Heart Institute for the first time (I was to return later following complications) a little over a week after being admitted.
He moved in a slow manner. He talked softly and slowly, as if he didn’t have a care in the world, no other place to go to. His touch was soft as well. None of this is that special; every nurse goes about their job in their own unique manner. Some are quick and cheery, others radiate compassion and warmth. Some tried their best to speak English with me when it was evident we would be more successful communicating in French. I had one crazy nurse who, while wheeling me from ICU to the recovery ward, began singing out the names of fruit using English pronunciation: “Ananas! Pommes!” Sounding the last s in “ananas” and pronouncing “pommes” as pumm-es. Why? Because just before wheeling me away she noticed she had forgotten to take a bag of grapes that my wife had left with me. “Oh,” she said, “I forgot the raisins!” Raisins being the name for grapes in French.
She got such a kick out of the fact that she had made this minor error, calling grapes “raisins”, that she decided to go for broke and make a cheery song out of it. There we were, wheeling between wards, with my nurse singing out “Ananas! Pomm-es! Ray-sins!” It made for a humorous and memorable exit from ICU and gave me hope that the transition to normal life would occur soon.
Back to Farouk. When I close my eyes and think of him, I see a person bathed in a sharp white light, swirling through him from head to foot. When he touched me, to change my dressing or take some blood, instead of the instinctive pulling away or tightening that would usually occur (by the end of 13 days I was able to remain calm while having my arm speared for my daily or twice-daily “prise de sang”), with Farouk I instantly calmed down as if a magical drug had suddenly been injected into my body. He had a powerful and natural healing touch, and I’m not sure if he even is aware of it.
A person like Farouk is very rare, a true healer. I met some interesting and compassionate nurses, each with their own individual stamp. The ones from France (Quebec is a popular destination for young French nurses) were either very special or the ones I disliked the most. French-Canadian nurses are all business, not the touchy-feely kind.
One French nurse in particular was Pauline. She was pretty but wore glasses that distorted her eyes. She kibitzed with me from the get-go and was super relaxed in her role as nurse. Which is saying a lot since she had been in Canada for only six months, three of which were an internship. She lived with four other mates who had come over with her from France and who had also lived with her as they studied nursing. I learned a lot about the functioning of the Quebec and French health systems from Pauline.
When I was going through a stretch of freezing cold feet which were keeping me up all night, Pauline offered to massage them after I pointed out to her that when I put some Tiger Balm on them it helped a bit. Following her rounds (she took care of only four patients), at around 10 p.m. she came to my bed, put on some thin blue medical gloves, and massaged one foot after the other. The bliss that I felt was painful. No one had really touched me in a long time. I love getting (and giving) massages. My wife and I own our own massage table and regularly give each other massages. My eyes closed, thoughts rushing through me like the waters of a rapid, and I lay back and enjoyed the massage. “Oh God, oh God,” I thought. “Oh, God.”
I don’t know why my feet hurt so much. The cold lay in the deepest marrow and there was nothing I could do to push it away. One night, while still in ICU, I had about six blankets wrapped around my feet and lower legs and still I froze. Sweating and freezing would be terrible problems for me. Poor circulation, obviously. I learned later that I had a low potassium count. Perhaps it was the fact that I hardly slept in days that this temperature imbalance in my body occurred.
Following the massage my feet glowed, warmth returned, and I fell asleep.
Sleep never lasted long in the hospital. Drugs coursing through your body makes time pass much more slowly. I might fall asleep and wake up, only to find that an hour had passed. Sleep again, another hour. This is no way to pass a night.
Pauline massaged my feet one more time. (I think that I fell in love with her a little). The second time I was much more animated, asking questions about her life and her training. (My French improved a lot during my stay at the two hospitals.)
When I mentioned to other nurses Pauline’s foot massages, they were incredulous, but still happy for me.
One night, I suffered from a freezing spot on the outer spot of my upper left thigh. I told Vanessa, a cheery French-Canadian nurse about it and invited her to touch the spot. “Is it cold?” I asked.
She hesitated. Very reluctantly she brought her hand over to the spot and touched it. What a difference in the two cultures!
At the emergency ward of the Montreal Heart Institute where I would go later when my heart slipped into an irregular heartbeat, my French nurse couldn’t get her hands off me! Earlier in the week, just before leaving the ICU, I had a nurse of probably Tunisian descent, petite with dark hair and black glasses, who gently put both her hands on my arm and squeezed reassuringly. What a rush of life and positivity those little actions could inspire!
These experiences, Farouk’s, with his almost mystical yet concrete transmission of healing energy, and the other nurses who would occasionally touch me, were not the norm during my stay in the four different wards I would end up in.