“The Army Nurse’s Kindness,” Ensign, Mar. 1990, 56
The theme of a recent stake conference dealt with the importance of individual acts of kindness and compassionate service. One of the speakers compared acts of service to a pebble dropped into a quiet pond, the rippling effect spreading outward in ever-growing circles. As I listened to the speaker, my thoughts drifted back to a young army nurse stationed at a military hospital near Tokyo, Japan. Though I can no longer recall her full name or where she was from, I shall never forget her kindness.
I arrived in Japan in 1971, having been transferred from a hospital in Vietnam, to recover from wounds before returning to the United States. One Saturday, I was enjoying a quiet evening in bed reading when a young woman approached me. The insignia on her uniform indicated that she was a lieutenant in the nursing corps. She checked the medical chart and then asked me to follow her. I wondered what treatment the medical staff had reserved for Saturday evening and was surprised when she led me to the visiting area.
The nurse introduced herself and quickly solved the riddle. Her name was Phyllis, and she, too, was LDS. She went on to explain that she liked to spend some of her free time looking through lists of new patients to see if any members of the Church had been admitted to the hospital. Then she could drop in on them occasionally when she was off duty. Although she usually visited only one or two members, she explained, this week the war seemed to have been exceptionally hard on the LDS servicemen: four new patients had arrived, three of whom were confined to bed. Since I was the only one who could get around at all, she asked if I would be willing to go visiting with her.
I agreed, and off we went through the sprawling hospital halls, Phyllis pushing my wheelchair. Our first stop was a soldier with a damaged spinal cord. He was strapped flat to a special hospital bed and faced a life in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. We then moved on to the burn ward to meet a young man from an Indian reservation. An explosion had left him seriously burned and blind. Our last stop was at the amputee ward, a special surprise, Phyllis said. This patient and I had been in the same infantry company and were wounded on the same day. My friend had lost both legs when a booby trap exploded. We had not seen each other since.
The pattern for each visit was the same. Phyllis, always smiling, offered cheerful greetings to everyone we passed. When she found the patient she was seeking, the friendly, informal conversation that followed always seemed to end up in a discussion of gospel topics, shared testimonies, and sincere words of encouragement. In an atmosphere where loneliness and discouragement were the norm, other patients would inevitably gather around to join in pleasant company and conversation.
Before leaving a bedside, Phyllis always asked if she could help in any way. On that evening, each member made the same request. Was there an LDS branch nearby that he could somehow attend? The jungle of Vietnam afforded little opportunity for church attendance, and it had been months since some of us had taken the sacrament.
Phyllis explained that, unfortunately, no branch existed at the hospital or even on the base. The nearest branch met at another military installation some distance away, and our injuries prevented us from making the trip. Phyllis seemed to be as troubled about the situation as we were.
The next morning, Sunday, Phyllis appeared at my bedside and told me that she would be back before four o’clock to take me to a short sacrament service in the hospital chapel. She had contacted the branch president on Saturday night to inform him of our wishes. He told her that, since the next day was fast Sunday and branch services would end early, he would arrange for priesthood representatives to go to the hospital to administer the sacrament.
When Phyllis picked me up, she seemed excited, but wouldn’t say anything as we approached the chapel except, “I think you’ll be surprised.” At the front of the room sat the branch presidency, and to the side the three soldiers we had visited the night before. Phyllis had made arrangements to have chairs moved to accommodate the beds and special equipment.
The real surprise, however, filled the rest of the room. From front to back sat servicemen and their families. When the meeting began, the branch president explained that, when he had asked for volunteers that morning to bring the sacrament to us, most of the branch members wanted to go. They decided to postpone fast and testimony meeting until the hospital chapel was available. Since we couldn’t come to the branch, the branch members came to us.
We enjoyed a marvelous, spiritual testimony meeting together. Each wounded soldier bore testimony of the strength and hope he found in the gospel. The branch members expressed gratitude for blessings they had received and for the support of the Church and of their own families. They also gave thanks for the opportunity to serve and offered words of encouragement to those who would return home to fight difficult personal battles. Once again, we were able to gather with the Saints and to renew our covenants through the sacrament.
What began as a simple act of kindness—a visit to a hospital patient—grew until it touched the hearts and spirits of many. I can only wonder how Phyllis’s own life has been richer for the service she rendered during her years as an army nurse.
How many times had she dropped in on an injured soldier at a critical time and helped him overcome his fear and despair, encouraging him to lead a productive life? Did some of the people whose lives she had touched return home to give similar service? How many of the lonely patients who gathered around hospital beds to share pleasant conversation with a Latter-day Saint were someday contacted by missionaries and, remembering her, invited them in and learned more? And, if converted, how had they affected the lives of their families?
Like a pebble dropped in quiet water, Phyllis’s simple act of compassionate service goes on and on.