Once upon a time, there was a little boy and he was gravely ill. He was on the pediatrics unit of a very busy hospital. Because it was one of the best units in the state, his parents had brought him there even though that meant they could not be with him most of the time. They wished with all their hearts that they could be there, but they had responsibilities and other small children at their home far, far away.
The little boy was so small and so ill that his bed had bars on it to keep him in place. In his chest, inserted between his ribs, was a tube which was draining fluid to a container on the floor. The little boy cried because he was alone and in terrible pain.
One day, a young, new nurse was assigned to care for the little boy. She had never met him before but she knew that the little boy would not like some of the duties she had to perform that day with him.
The little boy was too young to use an incentive spirometer.* This was a problem because he needed to exercise his lungs with deep breaths. The nurse understood that the little boy would not want to take deep breaths because the illness and tube in his chest made him hurt terribly.
The nurse visited the boy often during the day. Every time she entered the room, the boy’s big brown eyes warily followed her every move from his prison-bed.
She spoke softly to him and even though he was a child, she explained everything she was doing while she performed her tasks.
During one of these visits with the little boy, the nurse decided not to go to lunch. Instead, she lowered the bars on the bed and sat in a chair next to him. She took his little hand and told him a story.
“Once upon a time,” she began softly, “there were three little pigs…”
The little boy seemed to be very interested in the story, so the nurse continued.
Before long, the nurse came to the most important part…
“You have to tell me what the big, bad wolf said,” the nurse told him. “I can’t remember.”
With all the animation he could muster, the little boy loudly recited, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blooooooooooow your house down!”
And then the little boy did just that. He showed the nurse how he could huff and puff and blow the house down just as the big, bad wolf had done.
The nurse laughed and gave the little boy a hug. He didn’t know it, but throughout the story, he had done his breathing exercises.
The nurse visited him often over the next few weeks even though he wasn’t always one of her assigned patients. She had learned something very valuable, you see, about taking time with people and communicating with them, no matter their age.
Before long, the boy was well enough to go home. The reunion with his overwrought parents was very emotional but the nurse didn’t cry until she got in her car to go home for the day.
The nurse would never cross paths with the little boy again but she hoped he would live happily ever after.
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Mahatma Gandhi
*An incentive spirometer is a plastic device used to measure how deeply you can inhale and helps keep lungs healthy during diseases such as pneumonia. It is also often used after surgery. It helps with slow, deep breathing to fill your lungs with air which can prevent many lung problems.