Spring is here. In the desert seasons come early or late depending on the season. Summer comes early, and stays late. After six months of triple digits most of us Phoenicians are beat to hell, and Fall is welcomed like an old lover who knows all your secret sweet spots. A few days in late October with the temperature below 100 lets us know that Summer has finally grown tired of us, and Fall is slowly coming to rescue us from the torment of endless sunshine that keeps most people indoors with air conditioners earning their keep.
I squish Fall and Winter into one season. It’s cool enough to hike, but not usually cool enough for the fuzzy hats and scarfs we wear anyhow, cause it’s WINTER. Sometimes at night in December or January, we get freeze warnings. People throw towels and blankets over their prized fruit trees and flowers. This is rare. Falter lasts about 3.5 months, give or take a few weeks. If we are lucky, and this year we are, Falter will bring lots of rain. Enough rain equals fluffy green mountains sprinkled with purple, orange, pink, yellow, and blue……. Wildflowers! YAY!!!
Spring is right on time. She is her very own season, she is my favorite season. I love Spring. Kate + Spring, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N=G. I get spring fever. I have spring fever. My body is full of light and hope. My mind is simply my body expanded to infinity. The flowers haven’t made their full showing yet, but my energy is blooming!
All is well. Except…..
Lately, I have been complaining to a few friends about how bored I am with my job.
I’m a nurse. I work in a very nice hospital. I am surrounded by wonderful and supportive people. The doctors are, for the most part, fabulous and easy to work with, even complimentary. I feel valued, and I am good at what I do. I help people when they are at their most vulnerable, I make a difference. I earn a good living, and I have great benefits. I only work three days a week. But even with this list, I have been having the ho-hums. I want to be outside, hiking up mountains, riding with the top down, I want to be writing on the tree infested patio of a great cafe. Instead I’m at work. Locked up for twelve hours, assaulted by flourescent lights and endless cacophonies. Ho-Hum.
Until the other day. I came into work and got my assignment. I would be caring for a dying man. Actively dying. We do this on our floor, we specialize in “palliative care.” Comfort care at the end of life. I have cared for these patients before and had them pass on my watch, but it’s been a while. Lately my patients have been mostly standard medical/surgical cases. Ho-hum. But this day would not be boring.
I went into his room to meet him with the nurse who had been caring for him overnite. They said their goodbyes, his voice muffled by the mask on his face feeding him oxygen in large amounts. His impending death was a surprise, the doctor had delivered the news the previous day. The nurse giving me report cried as she shared his story. You cannot NOT connect with these people as you care for them, your job to make them as comfortable as possible until they leave. This day would be special.
My new friend was still able to talk, he was alert and oriented times three as we say. Somewhat lethargic, but easily arousable. I helped him eat his pancakes. He liked a lot of syrup. He just had a few bites, because eating wasn’t worth the energy expenditure, the oxygen it took to chew and to swallow. He had tired blue eyes that had seen a lot of life. They were sweet and full of thank you’s. I gave him some medication to make him more comfortable, the work of eating had done its toll. I needed to help him relax the struggle, but I also knew that his family was on their way, and he would want to be present for them. He told me his son was traveling from Missouri, his daughter from Texas, and they would arrive around noon with his grandchildren. His wife would accompany them.
The doctor came by and I asked him how long? How long could this mans body hang on? His answer was full of compassion and knowing. Twenty four hours. I love this doctor, he always says hello in the halls, addresses me by name. He is a good doctor, good with his patients. Twenty four hours. I over hear him telling the charge nurse that he was so glad that I was caring for this patient, that he couldn’t have asked for a better nurse to do the job. I wasn’t supposed to hear this, but I did. I am honored. My nurse friend tells me that I received high praise, and I share with her how I have been feeling about work lately, how today I don’t feel this way. Not at all.
The family shows up, and it’s awkward. There are tears and small talk. The family is talking mostly to each other. My friend is in and out, smiling and giving the thumbs up to his grandkids, then falling back into a dream. I tell the family that even if he can’t talk to them, they can talk to him. I tell them to let him know how much they love him, he can hear you, I share. Hearing is the last sense to go. I give him another shot. I call the chaplain.
The chaplain comes out of the patient’s room, and shares how well she thinks the family is doing. They are beginning to talk to him, holding his hand, sharing themselves. She also tells me that the grandsons are outside walking my friends beloved dog. What? His dog is here? He has been outside in the RV. I quickly conspire with the other nurses. That dog is coming up to the seventh floor! We don’t allow dogs. Some stupid rule. Luckily, the dog is lap size. We ask the grandsons to go get him, to wrap him in blankets, to smuggle him up to the penthouse. We send a nurse with them, just in case some nosey robot rule enforcer tries to thwart our efforts. This nurse is smart, she is an angel, and she is on a mission, the robot is no match for her.
Cookie is stuffed into a duffle bag, even better than blankets. I don’t get to see the expression on my friends face when he first sees his beloved hound dog, but what I do see fills me with so much joy. His mask is off, his nose still getting fed by nasal oxygen. Cookie is kissing his face, his tail wagging, my friend is smiling from ear to ear, hugging this beast, his best friend. This room is full of love, full of pure ecstacy, full of light. The family is laughing, everyone is happy. I am so honored to witness this. The energy has been transformed. I give him another shot.
Later he wants ice cream. I go down stairs and buy a pint of vanilla Haagen Das. His daughter sits by his bed, lifting his mask, feeding him bites. The rest of the family has left, to return later. It is quiet, he falls asleep with sweetness in his mouth, sweetness feeding him sweetness. He wakes up and says, “where’s my ice cream?” He struggles to breath, restless from having his mask off to taste pleasure, it’s a trade off. I give him a shot.
I have to go home now, I give report to the on coming nurse. I’m glad it’s her. She is so calm, so compassionate. We go into the room and he is in distress. His daughter watching, helpless. We call respiratory therapy, we pull up more drugs, we comfort his daughter. We watch him drowning, and we do what we can. He is calm, and resting when I leave.
But I’m not calm, and it’s hard for me to rest. Eventually, I fall into a deep sleep, only to wake up thinking about him, feeling him around me. I know he is gone, I fall back to sleep. I get to work and pick up my assignment. His name is not among my patients. Yes, I was caring for three other patients while I was caring for him, but I always had one foot in his world. The night charge nurse asks if she can give me a hug, she tells me he passed peacefully at three am. The family asked her to give me a hug, and to thank me for my care.
I am changed by this experience, and only my soul knows how. I know that I was chosen to care for him that day, it was a gift to him, and a gift to me. I am so grateful to have been in such a sacred space, to be welcomed and wanted in that space. It was profound. It is all profound. It is all sacred. I am full of gratitude for my breath, for my career, for my life. I am so lucky to stand in these nurse shoes, to wear white, to represent a culture full of caring, of responsibility to life, and sometimes to death. I am overwhelmed by this gratitude.
Thank you friend. May you rest in peace.