“The Man Who Lost Almost Everything,” Ensign, Sept. 1987, 54–55
It wasn’t unusual for the pediatric unit of the hospital where I worked to admit adult patients when the rest of the hospital beds were full. That is how I met Frank, a quiet, middle-aged man who had been admitted for tests because of poor circulation in his left leg. After several days of tests, the circulation became worse. Doctors agreed that Frank’s leg would have to be amputated below the knee, and the operation was performed.
Days passed, and I noticed there were no plants or flowers in Frank’s room. There were no phone calls or “get well” cards, and no visitors had been in to see him during the shifts I had worked.
Curious about this man who seemed so alone, I looked at his chart. On his admission form there was no home address listed; instead, in bold letters, was the word transient. He had listed a sister in Texas as his nearest relative.
None of the other nurses knew any more about Frank than I did, so gathering my courage, I knocked quietly on his door and went in.
He lay quiet as usual, with his hair askew. He grimaced as he tried to find a comfortable position.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“Well, you could put that pillow under my leg right here,” he said, pointing to his thigh. “I can’t ever seem to find a comfortable position. Is it supposed to hurt so much? Is it time for another shot?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s too soon to have another. Here, let me pour you a glass of water.” Picking up the water pitcher, I filled his glass. “Are you from around here?” I asked.
“No. I was laid off in Vegas and came through Salt Lake looking for work. I was on my way to Montana.”
“Oh, do you have family there?”
“No. I don’t have any family.” The words seemed to echo in the room. “I lost my family.”
He glanced at me and grimaced again, grasping what was left of his leg. I placed my hand on his shoulder and stood by his side until it seemed the pain had passed.
“There was a car accident,” he said. “My wife and five children—gone.”
Later, I sat at the nurses’ station trying to understand the loss this man was feeling—his family, and now his leg. And he was in a strange town with no friends or family to help him through it.
I told the other nurses Frank’s story. We committed ourselves to becoming his friends and family. We learned that since the accident, he had traveled from town to town, working for a while, then moving on, looking for something he had lost, never able to find it. Afraid to love and have it all taken from him again.
Each nurse had her own special way of doing things for Frank. One found out that Frank enjoyed reading western novels, so she made sure he always had one. Another kept fresh flowers from her garden by his bed. Another brought his favorite treats.
The family of a patient in the room next to Frank’s got in on the action, too. The Parkers brought something to Frank that touched me deeply. They gave him a picture of their family. He was very proud of it and kept it in view all the time.
He said, “Since I don’t have any family, the Parkers want me to feel that I am a part of their family. That makes me feel good. I love to look at the little children.” Then he would point and say their names as proudly as if the children were his own.
It soon became evident to the doctors that Frank’s extreme pain was caused by a complication in the healing process. To correct this problem, Frank would need another operation. This meant further amputation of his left leg above the knee. Frank was devastated. He wouldn’t talk to any of us, except to ask for another pain shot.
The night before the scheduled operation, Frank slid to the floor of his room and dragged himself across to the window. He unlatched the bottom of the window, three stories up, fully intending to end it all. No more pain. No more depression or aching inside. But he couldn’t get the window open. Falling to the floor in despair and agony, Frank lay there and cried.
The surgery went as planned. This time the remaining portion of his leg healed properly, and the pain was not as severe. We were all relieved to see Frank finally improving.
The Parker family contacted the missionaries, and Frank was very receptive to their message. Then that wonderful family took Frank into their home after his release from the hospital. As soon as his leg was healed, he was baptized. He now has a new zest for living and a desire to begin a new life, and he is looking forward to the day when he can be sealed to his wife and five children.
I learned a hard lesson from the experience, too. As I had wondered what I could do for Frank, I had considered giving him a Book of Mormon. It had made it as far as my locker at work but had stayed there. Later, I was embarrassed to tell Frank about the book in my locker. Frank was amused by my story, but he shook his finger at me and told me never to ignore those promptings again.
I hope I never will.