I went to work this morning feeling strong, my belly was full of wholesome oatmeal, my body and its chum, my mind, were balanced and radiant. After enjoying two days off full of cathartic massage, yoga, hiking, biking, and love oozing friends, I was ready to face the days challenges. Bring it on! Even after picking up my assignment and seeing the name of a patient I would have rather not seen, I maintained my bouncy step and bright perspective. Granted, I growled and hissed, uttered a four letter word or two, but all the while I was bouncing brightly. I am quite talented and multidimensional emotionally speaking. I forgot all about her when I stepped into the nurses lounge and was so sweetly greeted by little angels…….um, I mean devils, with buttercream frosting on top.
I saw the half opened pink box before I saw any of my coworkers. I’m sure we all said hello, we are very cordial, but I can’t say for sure. I was mesmerized, I pretended to not be curious about what was calling me closer, some childhood urgency rising in my chest, a craving I haven’t felt in a very long time moved my hand to casually flip open the willing top, revealing the most spectacular vision. Little round cakes. Red ones with white fluffy frosting and red sugar sprinkles, black stakes in the shape of diamonds and spades stuck out of their bellies. Oh my, they were beautiful. I said, too loud and with too much concern, “who brought these in?!” Voices spoke in reply, but my next thought was already falling out of my salivating mouth, so I didn’t hear them, ” Well, I’m certainly not getting on THAT train!” I meant the sugar train , the train that goes really fast up hills, and even faster down hills, until it eventually derails, collapsing into a useless heap, begging for some more sugar to get it back on track, and of course, you must oblige. I was speaking of that train.
I put the little sweeties out of my mind while I focused on the days work. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing her, but I couldn’t ignore the wretching sound coming out of her room , so I put on a brave face and went in to do my duty. She was sitting up in a chair, a little pink basin in her lap, her eyes watery and red. Shit. This woman’s stomach doesn’t work. it’s frozen, she has one tube inserted into her small intestine which is feeding her a continuous and nutritious flow of what looks alot like chocolate milk, but isn’t, and another tube inserted into her useless belly space, draining all the wasted gut juice and refluxed milky feedings into a little bag usually reserved for urine.
I took care of this woman before these tubes were placed, before it was decided that she would no longer be able to eat like a normal person. Ever. There was still some hope her stomach would restart a couple of weeks ago, but she had failed trial after trial, and here it was, a month later, and the nausea was only one of the chronic side effects of her new situation. She had been in the hospital a for a month. She was being drained, and she drained me. She was depressed and demanding, and who could blame her? Me, that’s who. 3 days ago, I had a 20 minute conversation with her about a pain medication, explaining up and down, and left and right, the dose, frequency, potency, side effects, and then all of that again six or seven times, of a drug she had already been getting for two days. Oy vey. I was ashamed of myself, but I wondered how she got to where she was, I suspected gluttony. She was a round little woman, her belly wider than she was tall, did she just wear out her stomach???? I am going to hell for thinking these thoughts.
I had been taking care of a forty-six year old woman who was actively dying of breast cancer while this woman was adjusting to her tubes, and my compassion and patience for her, and her frozen stomach had run out. The dying woman and her husband didn’t require much in the way of time, but emotionally I was wrecked. Watching a man kiss and rub his dying wife’s feet while she fades in and out of conciousness will crack you wide open. I was spent and I knew it.
Gut tube ladys call light was a constant noise, I watched it going off as I dialed the spa where the healing goddess Josette works to schedule my 1.5 hour massage, and as soon as this was done, I was able to answer her call light with a smile, fulfilling her request for a bedbath. No, the male nurses aide WOULD NOT do, she whined in her thick Mediterranian accent, couldn’t I do it? Of course I could, and I did. This lady was supposed to be discharged the next day, and luckily I wouldn’t be the one doing the dirty work. I would be luxuriating at The Scottsdale Plaza Resort, all my cares washed away by sweet smelling oil and magical hands of light.
Josette was my first “formal” yoga teacher, she took me through my first tour of teacher training. The first time we chanted Om, I burst out laughing, I felt ridiculous, and she laughed with me. She is a beautiful, compassionate, wise, and wickedly gifted healer. She has founded her own woman’s charity, and written a book and made a movie about her healing art. She is my hero, and my dear friend. So when she told me I was carrying my patient’s pain in my body, I believed her. We moved it all up and out, gallons of tears were shed and lots of laughter spilled from spaces now open and airy, I left her all shiny and new.
I was ready to care for this woman, the one with the same birthday as my mother, the same disease, only a different manifestation. This is how it is, nursing=life. Just like everything else. Life=Life. Mirror, mirror……
My heart softened as I pushed the nausea medicine into her line, she smiled with droopy eyes and thanked me. I left her to visit the nurses lounge, to get my water bottle…and to peek at the cupcakes. I peeked at them 2 more times in the next hour, then on my next visit to grab my lip gloss out of my locker, I stopped to admire them again, hoping of course, that they would be gone. No such luck. 6 left. I bent down and I smelled them! I knew I was a goner, it was only a matter of time. I went back to the floor, flushed G tube, flushed J tube, did some charting, casually asked the other nurses if they had tasted the cupcakes. They hadn’t.
I find myself back in the nurses lounge, I had to check my voice mail. I walk by the pink box, I flip open the top. There goes my finger, dipping itself in to the white creamy side. I think for a moment, I’ll just taste the frosting, and I do, my finger bringing itself up to my mouth, the creamy sugary dollop meets my tongue and immediately I am ALIVE with passion and desire, I am standing up, biting into the reddest, most succulent, most intoxicating piece of cake I have ever eaten. The frosting is 10 inches thick, and I keep telling myself I won’t eat it all, but I do, of course I do. mmmmmmmm. I am calm and still inside. I have come home. This is heaven.
I have to confess this indiscretion to anyone who will listen. I coax others to share in the naughtiness. I hang another bag of tube feed for my little lady, and suddenly I am asking her how she feels about not being able to eat anymore. I can still taste the sugar on my teeth as she tells me about her bakery, the one she and her husband used to run in Oregon. Her specialty, wedding cakes, she was a caterer of baked goods, and all things delicious. She was a gourmet chef with a kitchen full of exotic ingredients Greek, Italian, and French cuisine her passions, along with all things sugary and sweet. She tells me she still has a kitchen full of exotic ingredients, and a husband who can still eat, and she worries she won’t be strong enough to stand by the stove to prepare his favorites. She shares with me the dreams she has about eating solid food, and the dreams turning to nightmares as she remembers her frozen stomach, and how she will now die because she had a bite of filet mignon. In her dreams she forgets for a moment, tasting some of her favorite lovers, only to be reminded of her waking hell by a fully concious subconcious.
All I can do is listen and nod. I cannot fathom this punishment, a basic human function, chewing, swallowing, gone. A life built around food and it’s creation, gone. Now what? She asks me this, “now what?” She tells me she doesn’t know if she will ever adjust. She says she supposes she can just chew on pork chops, and then spit them out. I can’t think of anything to say to make her feel better, I ask her about prayer and faith, and she shares with me that her faith is the only thing keeping her going. This I can relate to, this I can help her to hold on to. It’s all any of us ever have, faith that the circumstances handed to us are never more that we can bear, that within each and every one of us there lies a wellspring of strength and courage, we only have to ask to be shown, ask for help. Pray to be guided to our inate capacity to rise up, to rise above, to shine in the face of adversity, to kick the shit out of set backs, and if we need to die, to do that with courage too, accepting that this is part of our journey.
I really felt like she had already given up, and I really couldn’t blame her. Even with all I just said, I also think it’s okay to throw in the towel and say, “I give”. I think that is strong and courageous too. We became friends before I sent her to the skilled nursing facility, the place that was to “rehab” her. I ate more sugar throughout the day, keeping my train on it’s tracks, and was sent home an hour and a half early due to lots of discharges. Just enough time to run up Shaw Butte with the dog and watch the sun set, burning off the days indulgences, and counting my sweet sugary blessings all the way. My life is yummy.