“The Man Who Lost Almost Everything,” Tambuli, Apr. 1988, 7
I met Frank, a quiet, middle-aged man, in the Salt Lake City hospital where I worked as a nurse. He was admitted for tests because of poor blood 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 that no visitors had been in to see Frank during the times that I worked. He had received no telephone calls or letters from friends or family.
Curious about this man who seemed so alone, I looked at his hospital record. There was no home address listed on his hospital admission form; he was a wanderer, traveling around the country with no permanent home. 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 one day I went to see him.
He lay, quiet as usual, with his hair uncombed. He grimaced with pain 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 injection of pain killer yet?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s too soon to have another injection. Here, let me pour a glass of water for you.” Picking up the water pitcher, I filled his glass.
“Are you from around here?” I asked.
“No. When I finished my last work in Nevada I came through Salt Lake City looking for employment. 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 again as the pain made him hold 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 explained. “My wife and five children—gone.”
Later, I sat at the nurses’ station trying to imagine 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 the experience.
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 to take the place of all that he had lost, but never able to find it. He was 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 bed next to Frank’s also got involved. 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 within view all the time.
He said, “Since I no longer have my own 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 to each child and say their names as proudly as if they were his own.
It soon became evident to the doctors that the extreme pain in Frank’s leg 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. It was a terrible setback for Frank. He wouldn’t talk to any of us, except to ask for another injection of pain killer.
The night prior to 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 floors up, fully intending to jump out and end it all. No more pain. No more depression or aching inside. No more loneliness. 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 attitude about life and a desire to begin anew. Frank is looking forward to the day when he can be sealed to his departed wife and five children.
I learned an important lesson from the experience, too. As I had wondered what I could do for Frank, I had considered giving him a Book of Mormon. In fact, a copy of the Book of Mormon had made it as far as my locker at work but it 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.