Iron Horse

I found the patient watching television. He looked sleepy. I said, “I’m here to take you for a walk. Getting up and moving around after surgery is very important.”

The patient responded, “I’m too tired and too sore.”

Nodding, I replied, “I know you are, but it’s a doctor’s order that you get up and walk at least three times a day. You can take a nap when you get back.” Knowing it wouldn’t pay to argue, the man sighed, pushed back his bedding and tried to sit up. A pained expression crossed his face and he dropped back against his pillow.

I patiently explained, “It’ll hurt less if you roll to your side and then push up.” Following my directions, he easily got to sitting on the edge of the bed a minute later. I suggested, “Get your bearings while I find your slippers and help you put on a robe. Do you want to comb your hair?”

He said, “I don’t know. How does my hair look?”

“A bit wild,” I teased with a chuckle. “Some of it is standing on end.”

Placing his IV pole in front of him, I instructed, “Hold onto the pole when you walk. You can’t leave it behind because you’re attached to it. Plus, I think you’ll like the support it gives. I’ll be supporting you on the other side.”

As the patient rose to stand, I was surprised at how tall he was despite standing hunched over. Looking down at me he said, “I’m big compared to you. What’re you going to do if I fall?”

He wasn’t pale or sweaty, so my glib answer was, “I’m trained to throw myself on the floor if you fall. That way you’ll have a nice soft landing.” He laughed. Just to make sure he was okay, I questioned, “Are you dizzy?” The response was a shake of the head. “Okay then, let’s walk and try standing straight.”

The patient’s abdominal surgery had only been yesterday. As if searching for a topic of conversation for diversion, he asked, “Did you grow up on a farm?” I nodded. He said, “Did you have horses?”

I laughed and answered, “No, Daddy hated horses!”

The patient forgot all discomfort when he exclaimed indignantly, “How could anyone hate horses?”

Knowing I had his interest, I resolved to draw it out as long as I could. I said, “Daddy was born in 1905, so he had to farm with horses. When he wanted to hitch them up to do field work, he said they played hard to catch.”

“They must not have liked him,” the patient mused.

“That’s probably very true,” I answered. “Animals don’t like people who don’t like them. After harnessing the work horses to the plow or hay wagon, they moved slowly, like they were exhausted. Daddy said he had to spend the entire day yelling at them to pick up their feet and do what they were supposed to do.”

The patient and I were on the homeward stretch, walking back toward his room. He no longer needed to be reminded to stand straight and was taking larger steps. I continued with my story, “When it was time to stop working for the day, Daddy directed the horses back towards the barn. Suddenly, the horses seemed to have all sorts of energy. They picked up their feet, tossed their heads and whinnied happily.” I ended with a chuckle, “That really irritated Daddy.”

I’ve used this story about how Daddy hated to farm with horses several times while walking surgical patients. It entertained them and helped with what they had to do.

At Christmas time, more than any time of the year, I wonder about Daddy’s life. I was 31 years old when he died. There are so many questions I wish I could ask him now. What was Christmas like for him as a child? His family was poor. He had a sweet tooth. Did his mother make cakes and cookies for him? What sort of toys did he have?

While growing up we had two toys in our house that I think came from Daddy’s childhood. One was a small metal cannon that used a cap-gun roll for realistic firing. The other, ironically, was a heavy, cast-iron horse bank. The animal wasn’t thin-legged as for a riding horse. It was a large, stocky workhorse with the word, “Beauty” printed on its side. The metal is smooth from handling, so Daddy must have loved it very much. How dismayed he must have been when he started to work with real horses!

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