One was a tattoo artist, the other a young mother. A psychiatric and mental health clinical nurse specialist shares stories of desperate people seeking rescue and reveals that, sometimes, it’s the rescuer who needs rescue.
It was the end of her day. Driving home, she kept seeing the face of that boy—he was in his late 20s but still a boy. A tattoo artist, he never finished high school, drifted around from here to California and now back. He showed her his notebook of penciled designs, said he was good at them. Or he had
been good. That was why he came to see her. He had just been fired because his lines were shaky, and that is death to a tattoo artist. His last customer threatened to sue the owner of the parlor.
He had a drug habit, anything he could afford, really, and that was not much. He coupled that with his regular lithium pills, chain smoking, and drinking. He was looking for a miracle pill to stop his hands from shaking, so he could continue to do the only thing he wanted to do in his life, the only thing he said he was good at—or had
been good at. He was sleeping at the nearby shelter but could not get back in until 4 p.m., when they opened the doors each afternoon. The doors would be shut again by 9 p.m., then opened in the morning after early breakfast, when all residents would depart with a sandwich and apple in a small paper bag—to find a job, to busk, or beg, to wander, to get in trouble, or trade their medications for something a little more potent. He came to see her seeking rescue. She hoped he would return.
Then there was the young woman, mother of a 3-year-old boy. While she was at work, serving dinner at a grill nearby, her current boyfriend had beaten the child with a baseball bat. A neighbor heard his cries and called the cops, a miracle, the mother thought, since nobody calls the cops for anything anymore. Her son was finally discharged to foster care while she met with Children and Family Services to find out how to get him back. The young mother was now alone in an apartment she could not pay for, did not know where her son was or how he was doing, was on antidepressants, and had no means of support except her part-time waitress wages. The beating and what she had seen when she walked into that little living room after work that day kept flashing over and over in her mind. The mother had come seeking rescue.
Both the tattoo artist and the young mother were desperate, like the other people she would see every day—some alone, a few couples, some school kids and teenagers, even some college kids. Many were homeless, some were immigrants, and some the working poor who passed by the clinic on their way to and from the bus stop. They would finally stop in, looking for help or someone who would listen to them. They, too, were looking for a miracle pill. They all sought something to stop the downward spiral—to block the thoughts, end the depression, quit the addictions, or somehow fix what was broken in their lives. She had no miracles to offer; she could help them to a point, but only if they let her in. Some did; some did not. They were all seeking rescue.
She was on her way to watch Lily, just born, to feed her and put her to bed so her daughter could attend an evening meeting. She had always told her daughter, “I want to help!” So her daughter would ask her to watch Lily while she went shopping, or out to dinner—or, like this night, to a late class or meeting. When she arrived, Lily was on a blanket on the rug in the next room. Her daughter pointed to the bottle, reminded her what time the baby went to bed, told her what time she would be home, and left.
As she had done before, she knelt on her knees by the blanket, talking softly to Lily, and then began placing Lily’s toys almost out of reach, one by one, just far enough so the baby’s fingertips could touch them. Lily would strain to raise her head, which would wobble back and forth as she focused on the toy, trying to reach it with arms that would not obey her yet. She would talk to Lily for a time, encouraging her to reach out and touch, asking about her day. Then, picking her up, she would walk around the house with Lily pressed close to her chest, upright, Lily’s little head by her chin, and then she prepared the bottle. She felt Lily’s warm little baby breath and her soft, wispy hair on her neck, and Lily would try to hold her head up and look closely at this woman who held her.
When the bottle was ready, she shook it, tested it, and took Lily upstairs to an old wooden rocker next to her crib. Sitting on it, she fed and rocked Lily, singing half-remembered lullabies as Lily reached for the bottle, and sometimes for her face. She kept looking, looking at Lily until the baby fell asleep. She then held her upright, pressed against her chest, drinking in the smell of her, the warmth of her body, the evenness of her breathing, the exquisite, tiny hands and fingers, the perfect little eyes shut tight with sleep, and the little mouth that looked like a kiss.
Sometime later, she heard footsteps outside, the back door opening, keys tossed on the kitchen table, and then her daughter appeared. “Hi, Mom! How did it go? How was Lily? Thanks for the help!” But she knew who was helped. She had been seeking rescue. It was time to go home. Deena A. Nardi, PhD, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN, professor at University of St. Francis Leach College of Nursing, is director of the school’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program.