By Ray Balogh
WARSAW — Rodney Fehr, a registered nurse in the Kosciusko Community Hospital ICU, described the most gratifying part of his job as “knowing I made a difference, making people smile and bringing a little light in their suffering and sometimes in their worst-case scenario.”
Perhaps no one summed up the soul of the man better than the anonymous nominator for his DAISY Foundation award.
Speaking on behalf of a terminal 82-year-old relative described only by his first initial, the nominator eloquently wrote, “You met L in his infirmity, his frailty, his vulnerability. You met L as he was dying. You fought for his life as if you had known him your whole life.
“You cared for him with comfort and kindness reserved for children coming into this world, not with the inevitability of those about to leave it. You sought to restore health and strength and vibrancy as if you desired to know L as those who loved him knew him.
“Perhaps he knew you most through touch — the touch of caring hands, the touch of a kind voice, the touch of a caring heart. I am grateful that L, in his last week of life, met Rodney Fehr, nurse extraordinaire.
“On behalf of our family, thank you, Rodney. In touching the life of our loved one, you touched all of us.”
Fehr commented on the award, “That was an affirmation of God that I am doing the right thing and going in the right direction.”
That direction is 180 degrees from the path addiction had carved for him in the not-too-distant past.
“Five years ago I was living in a tent, in recovery from addiction. I just wanted to die. I had burned every bridge and had a daughter I didn’t see for five years and two grandkids I never saw.
“I was by myself with my thoughts. My nursing license was suspended because I didn’t go into recovery. Something had to change.”
That’s when Fehr “brought a little light” into his own life.
“I went into detox, some pretty deep counseling and lots of group meetings and sponsors. I basically made recovery 100% of my life for a good couple years. Getting my nursing license back was too far out of reach, but after about a year and a half I had to set some goals and decided to make the move.”
Immersed once again in his labor of love, Fehr remarried “two years ago this March” and eventually moved from that tent into a 4,000-square-foot house in Warsaw. His relationship is “as tight as can be” with the daughter he hadn’t seen all those years and “all my family relationships are squared away.”
He said he is now “just living day by day” and expects to “kick out another 10 years” as a nurse before retiring. “It’s all about the body holding out,” said Fehr, 59. “The brain is still working and I love what I do.”
Fehr could be described as antifragile, a quality conceived by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb as “thriving and growing when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorders and stressors.”
“I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie. I like the stress,” said Fehr, “being pulled in different directions where I’ve got to keep it pretty tight and be on my game. A lot of times I have to make snap decisions in the ICU and I thrive to do my best under pressure.
“Basically I’m troubleshooting the human body.”
Fehr has plied the nursing profession since 1994, having worked in Bremen, Mishawaka, Goshen and Wabash and several states, including Michigan, California and Arizona.
Off the clock, he enjoys “hunting, fishing and spending time with family,” which includes four daughters, one of whom is a nurse at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne, a son and several grandchildren.
His advice for living a good life: “Do the right thing. Most of us know right from wrong. Sometimes we don’t know what the right thing is, but we always know what the wrong thing is.”