Thursday, November 15, 2012


The room is 105 degrees Fahrenheit.  Yes.  I'm serious.  A hundred and five.  And I - voluntarily, mind you - continue to go back, day after day now, and subject myself not only to the room itself, but to what goes on in there.  It's like the worst parts of yoga, for ninety minutes straight.  It's the parts of yoga where you start to tremble at the end of a pose, and your knee twitches or your hip twinges and you impatiently wait for the instructor to release you to something else.  It's those few moments in a regular yoga class but it's constant and it's so much worse.  It's Bikram yoga, and it's an instructor telling you, "This is supposed to hurt.  Be brave."  Or, "In twenty-five minutes, we'll all take a water break."  Or, "Your body is a folded box, your hands are under your feet, your stomach is GLUED to your thighs, your chest is GLUED to your knees, your face is flush with your shins, EYES OPEN, and there is no room for light or air between your halves, now pull up on your heels, straighten your legs and lock your knees - do it, do it now - LOCK YOUR KNEES and breathe normally, through your nose, don't give up on this pose..."  And in my head, I am like, "WHY AM I HERE?" and also, "I'M GOING TO DIE, I'M GOING TO BE A DEAD FOLDED BOX," but also, and best of all, and the reason I keep going back -

If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you. 
-Fred DeVito

* * *

The patient's team of physicians gather around the foot of his bed and I can't even tell if they are just discussing the case with each other, or if they're under the impression that anything they're saying is making sense to the patient.  He struggles to shift his head up so he can look at their faces as they tower over him, but I cannot raise the head of his bed more than 20 degrees, or it will put too much weight and pressure on the rapidly deconditioning skin of his coccyx and sacrum.  The doctors ignore me, and I listen intently to what they're saying about his renal biopsy results because I know that as soon as they leave, I'm going to have to explain all of this again to the man whose colostomy bag I am attempting to empty.  I look up and see one med student fling a sidelong and disgusted glance at the bag that I am attempting to empty efficiently, with some modicum of dignity, but it's hard because no one has emptied it in the four hours that he's been off the floor and down in dialysis.  He's so uncomfortable and  he's so hungry and I'm so mad at these doctors for knowing so much and still not being able to fix him and cure him of this terrible condition that came on so suddenly and I feel the wave of helplessness starting inside me as I think to myself, If you knew more, maybe you would know what to do for him, maybe there's more tests they can do or answers to be found... but I stop.  I look at his hands, lying clenched in fists on the bed below me and I remember the words that are like a song in my heart, the number of times I have repeated them to myself, over these last ten weeks:

Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love.
-Mother Teresa

I finish emptying his bag, clean up, and wash my hands.  I ignore the doctors.  I say, "Excuse me," firmly and with conviction and they scoot away from his tray table.  I maneuver it over his legs, adjust it to the perfect height for him so he can eat even though he is almost flat in bed.  I open his food, and his cup of apple juice, put in a fresh straw, and tilt the straw way down so he can get it in his mouth.  I stir up his pasta and comment softly to him that his spaghetti looks delicious, that I know he waited so long for this dinner, and now he can relax and enjoy.  I tell him, here's your call bell, I'll be right outside if you need me, I hand him his fork and touch his shoulder.  He smiles at me, starts to eat, and I blaze past the doctors on my way out the door.  They might know more than me.  They might do big things, like diagnose, and order meds, and perform surgery.  But I do small things.  And I do them with love.

30 Days Hath November
Day 01: A place I'd like to travel.
Day 02: A favourite movie.
Day 03: Something I never leave the house without.
Day 04: A friend I adore.
Day 05: My hometown.
Day 06: A book I'm reading.
Day 07: A song for the day.
Day 08: Three inspirational quotes (I only did two).


Allison the Meep said...

Small acts of love are so important. Your job is so enormously important in the lives of those patients, and I am so grateful that you are one of the good ones who actually cares.

Cait said...

One of the (real) nurses last week told me what her instructors once told her: "they might not remember your name, but they will always remember how you made them feel."

I think that it's easy to become burned out and jaded in this field. I hope I can find a way to avoid that.

The Nanny said...

Oh, I love this so much.

Wiley said...

This is really beautiful. Thanks for the humbling reminder.


This is beautiful. It reminds me of the nurse who cared for me that first night in the hospital after Ivy's birth. I will never forget her as long as I live.

You have one of the most important jobs in the world, period.

Anonymous said...

I remember what the nurses have done for me more than I remember what the doctors have done for me whenever I am inpatient in the hospital - every.single.time.

And of ALL the nurses I have had in my many many days as an inpatient over the past several years, the nurse that stands out the most to me and I am most grateful for is the one that was trying to tenderly, compassionately and quietly cover me up with a blanket after I had missed an entire night of sleep while stuck in the ER.


Holly R said...

Just beautiful. You are going to be an amazing nurse...your patients are so blessed. Many in the healthcare field struggle with the dignity of patients, and remembering that patients are human...I think being a nurse is one of the most amazing jobs in the world.