Assigned to disinfect and deodorize, He inspired, encouraged and eased a man’s suffering.
“It all started with a haircut,” explained Manny Nater, who has worked for 30 years in housekeeping at Temple University Hospital.
The patient, Paul Moore, was looking scruffy in the surgical intensive care unit. He was lucky to be alive — after being hit by a car at 11 p.m. on Erie Avenue coming home from the deli.
His life had changed in an instant. A fractured spine left him paralyzed. Because of broken ribs and other complications, he remained on a ventilator with a tracheostomy. Lying in the hospital bed, overcome with fear and depression, there was one thing Paul could control in his life. He could get a haircut.
Every day Manny was in Paul’s room, mopping the floor, cleaning the toilet, emptying the trash. He heard the family tell Paul they’d find someone to give him a haircut.
Manny volunteered. “I’ll bring in my clippers,” he said.
And he did. He got all the approvals and gave Paul a haircut. And every day after that the two men — Paul is 58, and Manny is 59 — would visit, converse. Manny would talk and Paul would write. With the trache, he couldn’t speak.
“He held my hand and spoke of purpose when I thought I was useless,” Paul explained in a note. “His faith is a huge part of him and he helped me renew mine. He even brought his minister to see me.
“He would just talk to me about getting better,” Paul added.
In a hospital full of doctors, nurses, and therapists, in this case, it was the housekeeper who connected with the patient.
Manny is known among the nursing staff on Nine East as a jewel, friendly and talkative, especially with the Spanish-speaking patients and their families. They can always talk to Manny.
But Paul Moore in 939 was different.
Each day Manny’s visits grew a little longer. “We related in life. We bonded,” said Manny. “I don’t know why. I like his strength, his will.”
Paul said his nurses “treated me like a king,” always had a smile for him, and even took him outside, which was certainly not their job. He said Dr. Amy Goldberg, his surgeon, made a point of coming by to visit.
“He has the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen and he never lost it,” said Dr. Goldberg.
But it was when Manny came to say goodbye that tears rolled down Paul’s cheeks.
“I just then realized what a friend Manny was,” Paul explained.
After seven weeks in the intensive care unit, Paul was being discharged and moved to Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Center City.
“I feel I’m ready to accept myself and yet I want to keep growing and going forward,” Paul wrote.
“I’m going to visit him,” said Manny. “Definitely, I will find a way.”
• • •
Michael Vitez, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism at The Philadelphia Inquirer, is the director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org