The compassion of nurses: Huntsville Hospital nurses help man suffering during long journey

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- When we are in need of medical attention, we have to trust the hands that help us.

Sometimes, nurses and patients form a bond. It can happen instantly, during a day, or over the course of treatment that lasts for months.

In honor of Nurses' Week 2016, we wanted to tell you about a moment that a group of nurses at Huntsville Hospital won't soon forget.

Ask them what makes them want to keep helping people every day, for a living, they'll tell you, "It's what we do." There are moments big and small in which health professionals go above and beyond. Nurses and other staff in the Emergency Department Observation Unit are proud of one of theirs.

As Candi Bickers said, "We do it on a smaller scale all the time, but this just happened to be a little bit larger."

One day in March, they banded together to help a man on a long journey. They can't reveal his identity, but they can tell us his story. Emergency responders found him and brought him to shelter, but nurses say they soon saw him in their wing because he needed treatment for his feet.

"They were so swollen -- his toes were all red, the skin was peeling," explained Erica Goering, a nurse who worked with the man.

She learned he had walked all the way from Bowling Green, Kentucky and was passing through Huntsville on his way home to Florida. But he hadn't taken his shoes of for three months, causing all that damage to his skin from the long, and what must have been very painful, walk.

"He had trouble just walking to the bathroom," Goering explained. "He didn't ask for anything all day. He just ate breakfast, lunch, dinner, and wanted to sleep. He said this is the best bed he's ever slept in before."

Bickers said that it soon became clear to the team that after the man left their care, his road would be tougher still.

"He still planned to walk to Florida to get home, because that's where his family was," she said. "We were just like, we can't let him just leave and not have a plan to get him there."

One of the nurses began a plan, and it spread like wildfire throughout their unit. Even those who weren't on-shift when the man was first treated joined the effort.

"That pretty much did it," commented nurse Kim King. "Once she said, 'We've got to do it, this is how much money I have, who's in?' Well. There ya go. We're all in."

They certainly were. The nurses say they quickly coordinated to get the man clothes, new shoes, cash, snacks, and buy him a bus ticket to continue his trip in comfort.

"We're just packing -- we packed probably twp, maybe three bags for him," said King. "He had to be discharged at an exact time to catch a city bus at an exact time to get over to the bus station. That was coordinated very well, we all pitched in on that."

It was a lot, and organized fast. But King said, again, that it's what they do.

"It's what we do when someone touches our heart. He was just such a polite person, very well-mannered. Very thankful. It just made it all the better."

Huntsville Hospital became a stop on the man's journey that these women hope he won't forget. They know they won't.

"I think that long after I'm done with nursing, I'll remember him," explained Goering. "Maybe he'll come back here one day and say, 'These nurses helped me and that was a changing point in my life.' I think that's what keeps us going, to believe that when we discharge our patients, that we have touched them in a way that will impact them and they will remember. And either they will be able to touch someone else's life, or that will change their course."

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