Friday, March 5, 2010

So here's the thing. I cried a little this morning.

My husband had run out to take B to school. I grabbed my ipod and uploaded the recent emails. One was from the church I occasionally attend that I haven't been to in months.

The senior pastor was recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He started a blog so that the parishioners could follow his progress while he receives treatment. It's called "Rick's Journey."

I decided to take a quick glance at it...just a glance. I scrolled down and spotted a photo of Pastor Rick sitting in the chemo chair with the IV hooked up under his shirt to what I fathom must be a port.

He wrote about how he was sad to lose his hair; his mother had always loved his blond hair.
That did it for me.

The thing that I don't talk about much, but which is probably well-known even outside of the medical field, is that doctors and nurses train themselves not to feel much for patients.

In my case, though, I learned to do this was when my dad was dying. He had lung cancer and was primarily my responsibility. The unspoken message from his side of the family was that this was the expectation. So I had to get down to business and be a single mom to my daughter, work, go to school, take my dad to appointments and check on him daily to make sure that he was clean and hadn't fallen on the floor. I was 26, and I think I handled it pretty well.

There wasn't much time for any emotions to set in. I did what I had to do. After he died, there was the task of cleaning out his house and preparing to sell it. I still didn't cry, not even at the wake or funeral. I was chided for that.

Fast forward to about 5 years later, when I was working at my first ICU job. There was a man in our cardiac unit who also had cancer but was in remission.
I placed my papers and supplies for the night at the desk across the hall from his door. I could hear him talking with his wife, and I listened to him intently. It took a few minutes to set in, but some connection formed in my mind--suddenly it was my dad talking again. The next ten minutes were spent in the bathroom, which was right behind another nurse's desk. I felt pretty awkward when I finally came out of there as I tried to look nonchalant. But I'm sure it showed on my face--when I cry I get blotchy.

This morning was one of those days that sickness got to me again. It rarely happens. I can't let it. Some of the patients I take care of have end-stage cancer and come to my unit for a last ditch effort at a few more quality months. My job is to give them hope, because that's what they're there for. To do anything less would be to fail them. I read the H&P's that the doctors have written, learn their stories, ask them about their families. Then I push it back so it doesn't get in the way.

But sometimes it's nice to be reminded what it feels like to be a normal person who knows how to properly grieve--to let down the protective wall. And that's why I decided to write this today. The silly posts are safe in draft for the moment. Thanks for listening.


troutbirder said...

I'm sure its a defense against "burn out." How else could you keep on going and do the good you do in this world? In a different way this reaction reminds me of my reaction to the loss of the light of my life, my beloved son, to the effect of bi-polar disease.

walk2write said...

Before 2004, I had no close connection to death. Sure, I had been to funerals--friends, even children of friends, distant aunts and uncles, grandparents I never met or barely knew. Then six years ago, death came too close for comfort. I lost two near and dear family members in a space of five months. Blogging is one way I cope with the loss. I still have to approach it indirectly, though, and admire your forthrightness about it.

Clementine Moonflower said...

Troutbirder, I have no doubt that losing a child to mental illness is just as bad as losing a child to death. There is a lot of joy that comes through in your writing, despite this horrible thing that has happened to someone you love so dearly. You must be a strong person to have found such a good way to cope. Thank you for sharing this very personal information with me here on my blog.

walk2write (okay, I'm gonna say this right now--we've been talking for like 2 years and I still don't know your names! Although you don't know mine either, so I guess we're even :-))

Up until I was 25, I'd had no one close to me die besides my grandma when I was 7. Then it hit all at once in my family, and I became a nurse and began to preside over it.

I'm not sure if it's so much a coping mechanism for me, to not feel sad about death. Honestly, I really believe I have just come to develop a healthy respect for it. I have come to terms with the fact that it will sometimes visit like an uninvited guest, sometimes as a soothing relief and comfort. Either way, despite everything we invent to slow the death process, it will come regardless, sooner or later. I still dread it. So I pray for the safety and health of the people I love often, but I know that every moment is really precious with them. That's why I take so many photos now.

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