By A.L.F. Fagan
My nursing shift at the hospital was finally ending. I’d lost track of time, and my boss, Karen Baker, had to inform me that it was almost time to go home.
“Frank,” she says, “Tina just arrived to take over for you. Once you and her have completed the change-of-shift, you can head out. You’ve had a busy day, go home and get some rest.”
“Thanks, Karen,” I reply.
It was a busy day. I almost always have a busy day. Nursing is hard work. Being one of the only male nurses here, they call on me if some heavy lifting needs to be done. I’m not an orderly; I have a nursing degree. Some male nurses get a little offended when asked to do something that they view as not part of their job. Me, I don’t make much of a fuss about it. I just pitch in wherever I can. Tina’s a real pro, so I’m able to get her up to speed quickly. Soon, she’s taking care of her many duties. Now I really can feel how tired I’ve become. I want to go home and get some rest. Still, there is one more thing I need to do before I leave. It is not something that I do for the hospital or the doctors. It is something that I do for Harmony.
I go into Mrs. Morton’s room and see her resting peacefully. Earlier today, the doctors explained that it was a really bad stroke that she had suffered. They fear the worst. If she doesn’t come around in a few days, they’ll take away the feeding tubes. She’s an eighty-four-year-old widow. Those of her children and grandchildren who live in the area stopped by today. I could see the grief on their faces. She has a son who lives out of town and is flying in tomorrow morning. This job has its ups and downs. It is rewarding to see patients get better and saddening when they don’t. The doctors have tried their best. All the staff can do now is hurry up and wait. It doesn’t look promising.
So now it’s my turn to try. Standing next to her bed in the dimly lit room, I hold out my arms above her. My hands begin to glow and light up the room. The glow gently drifts down to Mrs. Morton and becomes part of her, then is slowly absorbed into her body. As it enters her, she stirs slightly and then resumes her slumber. Since that is all I can do, I turn and head to the locker room. After I change clothes, I leave the building and head to my car out in the lot. I can feel the sleepiness coming upon me. At this time of night, it will only take fifteen to twenty minutes to get home. I roll down the window to let the cool night air help keep me awake. I turn on the radio and play some old Motown, nice and loud. The music wakes me up, and I start moving my hips to the infectious groove. Soon I’m even singing along.
In just over fifteen minutes, I’m pulling the car into the driveway. All the lights are out in the house, so that means that my sister Diane has gone to bed. As quietly as possible, I enter through the back door and into the kitchen. My sleepiness is returning, and I don’t have the energy to cook anything. Instead, I make a sandwich and pour a glass of milk. I set my food down on the kitchen table and am just about to take a seat when I hear my daughter’s voice.
“Daddy, do you want potato chips or pretzels with your sandwich?”
I turn to see her holding a bag of potato chips in one hand and a bag of pretzels in the other. I rush over and give her a big hug, saying, “Oh Harmony, it’s so good to see you! I’ve missed you so much.”
I feel her hugging me back as she replies, “I’ve missed you too.”
I relax my embrace and look down at her sweet smile. She is only eleven, so I tower over my daughter. Her long brown hair and big brown eyes are just as I remember. She looks up at me and reiterates her question: “Daddy, potato chips or pretzels?”
I take a quick glance at each bag that she is holding and see that my choice is an easy one—the potato chips are flavored with Old Bay seasoning: my favorite. I reach for that bag and say, “Potato chips.”
Harmony puts the bag of pretzels back in the cupboard. We both sit down at the table. I take a bite of my sandwich and say, “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“You know that I haven’t changed.”
“Of course, you’re still just as beautiful as your mother.”
She blushes and replies, “Oh, Daddy.”
We chat for a long time while I eat. I tell her about things that have happened since we last spoke. I mention that I have plans to remodel the upstairs bathroom. Eventually, we start talking about things that have happened lately at work.
Harmony gives me a huge grin and says, “You did a wonderful thing for Mrs. Morton tonight.”
I smile and ask, “Now how did you know about that? Have you been watching me?”
“Maybe,” she replies playfully. She becomes a bit more serious and continues. “You did a terrific thing for her. She wasn’t even going to make it long enough for her son to get in from out of town, but now she’ll recover and live a whole ’nother year. I’m so proud of you.”
It becomes my turn to blush. “Oh, baby, it’s humbling to hear you say that. I’m glad that I could do something for her. I like helping people; it’s good for the soul.”
We talk some more after I finish eating my food. Then she asks me, “Do you want some dessert? Aunt Diane made a pie.”
“Oh, I don’t know, baby, I’m kind of full.”
“Are you sure? It’s Dutch apple.”
I sigh as my resolve instantly evaporates. “Oh, that’s my favorite. Well . . . maybe just a tiny slice.”
She laughs as I head over to the counter to check it out. I lift the cover and start to salivate as the aroma invites me to indulge. I cut a slice and bring it to the table. Harmony inspects the pie on my plate.
“I thought you were only going to have a small slice.”
I look at my plate and can see that there is nothing small about my portion. “Oops, I guess I must have goofed.”
Harmony chuckles while I take a bite. It tastes every bit as good as it smells. Diane has not lost her touch. There is something special about the combination of apples, sugar, and cinnamon. We continue to talk as I eat. A few hours go by, and she can see that I’m getting sleepy.
“Daddy, it’s very late, and you need to get some rest.”
I pretend that I’m not tired because I just don’t want this moment to end. Alas, my daughter can see right through me. She promises to come back another time. I become somber and ask, “Do you think your mother might visit too?”
Harmony gives me a sad look and responds, “I’ll ask, but I don’t know. It is already unusual for me to be here.”
I try to hide my disappointment, but she perceives it anyway. Harmony reaches out and touches my hand. “You and mommy and I will be together again someday, I promise.”
“I know, sweetie.”
She gets up from the table and says, “I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too, Harmony.”
I stand up and we share a long hug. She smiles and says, “Now get some sleep.” Then she leaves. I quickly wash my dishes and head upstairs to my bedroom. After getting undressed, I sit on my bed and glance at a photo on the nightstand. It is a family picture of my wife Evelyn, Harmony, and me. My daughter was about two at the time. We are all smiling in the picture. Those were happy days back then.
Evelyn and I met when we were back in college. It was love at first sight for both of us. We got married right after graduation. Two years later, she became pregnant. Once we learned that it would be a girl, Evelyn wanted to name our daughter after her grandmother, who had passed away several years earlier. Evelyn’s grandmother’s name was Latricia, and we were both hesitant because it might sound a bit too old-fashioned in modern times. We discussed it on several occasions. Then one day while Evelyn was folding some clothes from the dryer, she came up with an idea.
“Frank, I just figured out a name for our daughter! I remembered that Grandma could play the piano so beautifully.”
I looked at my wife blankly and replied, “So you want to name our child Piano?”
“No silly, let’s call her Harmony.”
“Oh, that is a beautiful name.”
And that is what we named her. The two happiest days of my life were when Evelyn and I got married and when Harmony was born. Everything seemed perfect back in those days. Then my wife became pregnant again when Harmony was three. After learning that it would be a boy, we decided to name him Henry after my father. All was going well until, out of the blue, Evelyn started to hemorrhage. She was rushed to the hospital, and the doctors performed an emergency operation, but were unable to save her. They were able to deliver our son prematurely. He survived two days before he joined Evelyn. It felt like my whole world was spiraling out of control. What kept me strong was that I knew that I had to take care of Harmony. I was all that she had. I couldn’t let her down. It was around that time that my sister Diane had just finished getting a divorce and was not eager to have to move back in with our parents. I needed help raising my daughter and Diane needed to get her feet back on solid ground, so she moved in with us. Diane and Harmony had always had a good relationship, and they began to bond even more living in the same house. I continued to mourn the loss of my wife and son, but at least we had a family.
Several years went by and a new normal took root. Then one day when my daughter was eleven, she said that she wasn’t feeling well. I took her to the pediatrician right away, but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. The doc suggested that perhaps my daughter needed a few days’ rest. After a few days went by, Harmony began to feel worse. I rushed her back to the doctor. The doctor had her admitted into the hospital for testing. It took a while, but they eventually were able to diagnose her condition: cancer. It was inoperable and aggressive. They said she probably had four to six months to live. Harmony survived almost eight months; she passed away just two weeks before her twelfth birthday.
Even though I knew that it was inevitable, the blow was more than I could take. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I lost interest in everything. My boss let me take a long-term leave of absence from work. Fortunately, Diane had a decent job, or I would have lost the house. She tried to console me, but it was no use. Months went by and I’d lost thirty pounds. I started drinking, but that didn’t help a bit. When I’d see myself in the mirror, it was as though I was looking at a dead man. Diane finally convinced me to give up the booze and get professional help. I did therapy and took medication. The therapy didn’t help, and the medication made me feel like a zombie. My doctor changed my prescription. Doctors and pharmaceutical companies seem to have an endless supply of new dope for people to try. It didn’t matter what they prescribed, I was still barely eating and sleeping. I lost another fifteen pounds. After many months of trying, I turned my back on therapy and threw the drugs away. At long last, I had come to accept my fate.
Then late one night, after Diane had gone to bed, I was sitting alone in my bedroom. The lights were off, and the only illumination was the moonlight coming through the window. I sat in my chair, mindlessly staring at the floor. Suddenly, I heard my daughter’s voice calling me. I looked up and saw her standing there. That was it—the lack of food and sleep, the booze and drugs had finally taken their toll; I’d gone crazy. There was no other explanation. She couldn’t possibly be there. I was certain of that until she came over and touched my hand.
“It’s me, Daddy.”
I got out of my chair and hugged her while tears were streaming down my face. I didn’t want to ever let her go. When I finally did, I looked at her in the moonlight and said, “I love you and have missed you so much.”
“Daddy, I love you, and have missed you too. I’ve been sent here for a reason. There is a great concern about you. You can’t keep going on like this. You have things that you are meant to do. A decision has been made, and a special exemption will be given. You are going to have a big change in your life and help a lot of people. And every time you help someone, I’ll be able to visit.”
“You can’t stay?”
“Only for a few hours at a time.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will soon enough. When you wake up in the morning, you’ll know what to do. A path will be laid out before you, and you’ll follow it. When the time comes—a gift; a new ability will be there for you to use to help others. Afterwards, I’ll be able to visit. Don’t worry, it will all make sense in time. But you have to be very careful; people cannot be allowed to find out about this gift. If that happens, then it will be taken away, and I won’t be able to visit anymore.”
I hugged her again for a long, long time. After a while, she had to leave but promised to return. I laid down in bed, and for the first time since my daughter passed away, I finally got a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, I got out of bed with a renewed energy. I went down to the kitchen where Diane was making breakfast. I poured a cup of coffee. Diane asked me, “Do you want something to eat? I’m making French toast.”
“Yes, that’d be great. French toast is my favorite!”
She seemed happily surprised that I was willing to eat. We sat together at the kitchen table. I couldn’t believe how hungry I was. Diane was speechless.
“Hey, Sis, I’ve decided to make a career change, and I’m going to need your help.”
“Frank, you know I’ll do anything.”
“I’ve decided to go back to school and become a nurse. I’m gonna stop by the community college today and register for classes. It will take a few years to earn a degree. I’ll try to work part time to keep some money coming in, but I’ll need help with the bills.”
“Bro, I’m happy to see that you have interest in something again, so I’ll help any way I can. I’m curious, why nursing?”
“I feel it calling me. Maybe I feel the need to be able to help others like Evelyn, Henry, and Harmony. I couldn’t do anything for them, but maybe I can do something for others. Perhaps part of me wants to make up for past failures, I dunno.”
“That sounds good to me. I still have some batter, want seconds?”
Later that morning I stopped by the local community college. The new semester was just about to start, and I was fortunate enough to get one of the last open spots. There was a lot to learn, but I stayed focused on my goal. A few times while working toward my degree, I got a bit down on myself. Sure enough, whenever I felt like that, Harmony would visit during the night and cheer me up beyond belief. Eventually, I earned my degree and landed a position at a hospital not too far from home.
I settled down into my new job and quickly made several friends there. I expected that the job would involve a lot of work, and it did. After I had been working there for about a month, I encountered a particularly heart-breaking situation. A nine-year-old patient named Sara Miller was brought to my floor. She and her mother had been involved in a tragic car accident. Both were badly injured. Her mother Kathleen was expected to make a full recovery. Sara however, had suffered serious damage to her spinal cord, and the doctors were certain that she would never walk again. It was especially saddening because she reminded me of Harmony. I was working an evening shift. I came into her room to check in on her and found her asleep. I became teary-eyed as I thought about her having to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. That was when I felt an odd sensation in my hands and noticed that they were starting to glow. I had no idea what was happening. I swear I could hear Harmony whisper, “You can do it, Daddy!” I held my hands over Sara, and the glow went from them into her. She continued to sleep while this happened. As I left the room, I noticed that Sara’s right foot twitched.
Later that night, Harmony came to visit. She explained what had happened.
“This is the ability that I told you about,” she said. “Sara was never going to be able to walk, but now she will. There will be a long, difficult recovery process, and she will never become a track athlete or ballerina, but she will be able to walk and live a normal life.”
“Will I be able to do this for everyone?”
“No. Some things are meant to be, while other things are not. In some instances, your role will be to provide comfort for people in their final hours. In other cases, you will take care of them as their own natural healing abilities do their thing. But in a few situations, you’ll help them just like you helped Sara tonight. Over time you’ll learn to spot those cases right away. But remember, don’t let people find out about what you can do. You were given this to help the seriously sick, not to become famous.”
“I kind of like it that way.”
In the days that followed, Sara Miller astounded the doctors by slowly regaining movement in her legs. They couldn’t explain the recovery. I just quietly went on doing my job.
It’s now several weeks after I helped Mrs. Morton, and another patient has been assigned to a room on my floor. His name is Mike Paulson. He is a fifty-three-year-old father of three, who suffered a massive heart attack. The doctors still don’t know for sure if he’ll ever regain consciousness, but they are becoming increasingly pessimistic. He’s been unconscious since being brought here. His wife and children have visited every day, and the worry and fear in their faces is plain to see.
I stop by his room late in my shift. This is a patient I can help; the energy is building up inside me. After holding my hands over him, they start to glow, and then the glow enters his body and becomes absorbed into him. Just as this is finishing, I am startled to hear the voice of my boss Karen.
“Frank, what is going on here?!”
She must have come into the room while I was focused on Mike. There is a suspicious tone in her voice. I can only imagine how irregular this must look to her.
“Uh, Karen, I was just trying to help him.”
She puts her hands on her hips and starts to interrogate me. “Help him? Help him how? You need to explain yourself right now!”
“It’s hard to explain. I don’t know exactly how this works, but sometimes I can help people. This is how I helped Mrs. Morton and other patients make surprising recoveries. Please understand, this is a gift, it’s not a bad thing.”
“Well, I don’t know what this is, but I’m certainly going to report it. You are hereby suspended immediately until this can be figured out!”
Suddenly we are both interrupted by Harmony appearing in the room.
“Please, Mrs. Baker, don’t fire my daddy. You can’t tell anyone about this! If more people find out about what he can do, then his ability will be taken away from him.” She starts to cry. “If that happens, then I won’t be allowed to visit him anymore. Please don’t tell anyone! I love my daddy!”
I try to calm her down. “Harmony, sweetie, let me take care of this.”
My daughter continues to tearfully implore my boss, “Please, Mrs. Baker, don’t take my daddy away from me!”
Karen speaks up. “Harmony? But I thought your daughter was—” A look of shock and terror comes to my boss’s face. She turns and rushes out of the room.
My daughter starts to follow, but I stop her. “Harmony, go on back to the house. Let me talk to my boss. This is a grown-up conversation. I’ll try to calm her down. This has to be confusing for her.”
She replies reluctantly, “Please try, Daddy.” Then she disappears.
I leave the room but don’t see Karen in the corridor. Perhaps she went to her office. On the way I run into Tina.
“Hi, Frank. I’m here to take over for you. Once we complete the change-of-shift, you can go.”
“Have you seen Karen?”
“Yeah, just a minute ago. She seemed to be in a hurry and was heading to the parking lot.”
“Did she say anything to you?”
I look out the window to see Karen’s SUV leaving the parking lot. Whatever she decides will have to wait until tomorrow. When I get home, Harmony is waiting for me. I explain that my boss had left and that I won’t know anything until I show up for work the next day. We talk but can’t escape the worried tension in the air. This might be the last time we see each other for a long time. She and I have an extra-long hug before she leaves.
The next day, I go directly to Karen’s office before I’m scheduled to start my shift. As soon as I enter, she has me shut the door. She remains seated behind her desk. I take a seat and let her start talking.
“Did I really see what I thought I saw last night?”
“How long have you been ‘helping’ patients?”
“Since shortly after I started working here.”
“Can you help everyone?”
“No. Sometimes I can, while other times I can’t. It has been explained to me that in certain cases, it really is the end for some people. Destiny controls this, not me.”
“You know I should report this.”
“I know. You should be aware that if you do, this ability will be taken away from me and I won’t be able to see my daughter again.” I pause and then become emotional. “She means everything to me. You have a family. Could you imagine what it would be like to lose them? I know that I’m asking a lot, but if you could keep this between us, I’ll be allowed to keep helping people in ways that the doctors can’t.”
Karen becomes silent. My left leg begins to tremble slightly while I wait for her to respond. She turns and looks at a picture of her family on her desk. When she looks at me again, her face is red and her eyes are moist. After a long pause, she softly says, “OK.”
That is the best news I’ve heard in a long time. She then offers a few suggestions on how I can continue to use my ability without being noticed. It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Months go by and Karen never brings up the subject again. So, I go on helping people whenever I can. I do it because it feels great to see patients get better. I do it to see the joy in the faces of their family members. But most of all, I do it for Harmony.