Other People’s Shit

I have a stormy relationship with afternoon naps. I can’t resist falling into the arms of my Egyptian cotton-clad memory foam mattress, especially when the blinds are drawn, and the ceiling fan and air conditioner are singing a sweet summer afternoon lullaby. Today after yoga and lunch, my mind was lazy and worn out.  I spent some time lumbering through the first few pages of Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, and then I gave in to the nap attack…I tried to stay awake, assuring myself that bullfighting is a penetrating topic, and Natalie has an equally penetrating reason for making this book required reading before the retreat in August. But still…my eyes are growing heavy, and Hemingway’s writing makes me yawn, I find myself rereading sentences, searching for clarity, seeking to be penetrated, and the next thing I know…..

Click, click!——click!——click,click,click,click,click!—–click,click!——click!!!!!!!!

I wake up with drool on my face, and to what sounds a lot like morse code. My ceiling fan is trying to tell me something. I decipher the code while wiping my face with an Egyptian cotton pillow case, it seems to be saying, “Get up and write!”

 It’s always the same….afternoon naps leave me feeling grumpy, like I’ve been dragging myself across the bottom of the earth with 1000 lbs of bricks strapped across my shoulders. I feel like I did when I was a kid after waking up from a nap…I want my Mom and I want a cookie.  It’s hard for me to come back from the nap attacks, but I am a slave to the mini afternoon death call, for I know they restore me in ways that aren’t immediately apparent. And I need to be restored.

I’m still waking up as I write. My bed is calling me from the other room, but I won’t give in, even though…I’m still tired. I’ve been tired lately. Really tired. My energy has been siphoned out of my body by intangible hands, or maybe the hands pushing these keys are to blame for my insatiable desire to sleep.

Maybe my tendency to trauma bond is to blame for my exhaustion. Thanks to my cherished friend Josette, I now have a word for my not-so-healthy habit of connecting with people and their wounds, be they physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. I’m naturally empathic, I feel other people’s emotions, and recently I’ve been having a hard time discerning what’s mine, and what’s not mine.

Or maybe, I’m just beginning to question what’s mine, and what’s not mine?

I’ve been noticing strange things at work. I was teaching my patient’s daughter how to give her Mother an injection in her deltoid muscle, because this woman would need to receive B12 shots monthly for the rest of her days. I went into detail about bony landmarks, expelling air from the syringe, and needle size, and then I plunged the long, sharp, skinny dagger into the woman’s fleshy arm, seeking to deposit the pink syrupy liquid into the meaty muscle buried below the fat. She didn’t grimace or flinch, instead, she commented on how painless it was. I’m patting myself on the back for a job well done, when I realize my right deltoid muscle is twitching under my skin. It’s twitching so much, it’s visible. I show some of the other nurses my twitching muscle while telling my tale of having just given a shot to my patient in her RIGHT DELTOID!  They all agree it is indeed strange, but to me it’s really flipping strange, because….

Earlier in the week I was taking care of a patient who had surgery because her stomach was swallowing her esophagus. The surgeons went in and pulled her hungry belly back down into her center, making her all better.  This surgery requires that patients eat a very specific diet while healing from the separation, but this woman managed to get the wrong tray, and before I could stop it, she had gobbled down some pasta with meat sauce, and soon began complaining of tightness in her throat and trouble swallowing. I got on the phone to dietary, scolding them and requesting they bring this woman the proper diet tray, NOW!!!  She recovered quickly, but I didn’t. My throat feels tight, and I find myself coughing and clearing my throat, it feels funny, it feels tight. I go into the room next door to the choking lady to speak to a patient about her advance directives. I’m no longer coughing, but my throat still feels tight. I spend at least 10 minutes gathering information from her sister about her history and wishes while she eats her dinner. I leave the room to go chart, and  the living will lady’s call light goes off. I walk into her room, and she claims to be having esophageal spasms, her food is stuck in her throat. This woman is in the hospital for something totally unrelated to her esophagus. I have her drink some warm liquid and walk around the nurses station, and it passes…but I can’t help wondering….

What the hell is going on? And, why am I so tired?

I notice I’m breathing shallow as I fall asleep after spending two days caring for a man I’ll call Bob, who was dying of lung cancer. I can’t help feeling what it’s like to be suffocating like Bob. I think and feel this while I am caring for him, listening to the doctor tell him he may not live through the night, that we can’t send him home because we can help him die peacefully here in the hospital, but at home it would be painful and ugly. This man’s family lives in England, and they aren’t coming for another 24 hours. I phone the on-call barber and schedule a haircut for Bob, because he wants to look nice for his family, hoping they make it in time. His lips and his fingers are blue. That night, I go to sleep with a weight on my chest, and I wake up at 3am barely breathing and call the nurse caring for Bob to see if he is still alive. She tells me that his family came early, and that he is about the same. He’s still alive, hair trimmed and face freshly shaven;  his family is at his bedside.

I share my concern about absorbing my patient’s energy with a few friends. The most enlightening thing I got was from Eric, who said, “Stop it!”

Most recently there was stomach trauma lady. This woman was my age with a 15 year history of abdominal surgeries gone bad. Real bad. She could no longer eat, and she wasn’t tolerating the tube feeds pumping nutrition into her teeny gastric bypassed belly.  It all started with a C-section, and ended up with her writhing in pain on my watch, unable to find relief.  Two days in a row I cared for her, as her face grew into a perpetual grimace. Nothing I did made her feel better; narcotics every hour, reiki, movement, therapeutic communication. Endless calls to the doctor, and switching her drug therapies failed, and all the fancy scans showed nothing new or out of the ordinary. I went down to the CT scan with her and saw the tube that she claimed was hurting her on her left side, all curled up under her diaphragm.  She claimed it felt like a knife every time she breathed. The tube was draining her “remnant stomach” the part that they shut down during gastric bypass surgery. Hers was full of stinky brown fluid that was draining into a bag hanging off her belly. Nothing helped her pain.  She was ill. She was also emotionally sick, I read her history, and that was enough to make me feel sick too.  

 By the end of my second day with her, I started to have a sharp pain in my left side when I took a breath( ??????!!!!!).  I tried to stretch it out, I thought maybe it was gas, but it lasted during much of my two days off.  Eventually it let up after I had lunch with Josette, oh, and after I  decided to let go of Joe.  I described to Josette what had been happening at work, and I talked with her about my romantic relationship, and how I was trying to overlook his pile of baggage, inevitably getting sucked in to his emotional pain and drama. This stuff wasn’t mine, I knew it wasn’t mine, but it was draining me. I was so damn tired!

She helped me to see that I was “trauma bonding” with my patients and in my relationship, and somehow, these two words shed bright rays of light on my tendencies to be receptive and empathetic to a fault,  and the fault is in hurting myself. On a molecular level all really is one, and I can become very subtle, to the point of experiencing this…..but there has to be a better way, a way to stay grounded in Kate while still doing my duty and having deep intimate relationships with the opposite sex.  Josette shared some tools, and I remembered some of my own. I’ve used them during the last week with my patients, and I must say,I do feel better. I feel energized, happy, motivated, inspired,  more full of…ME. ME. MEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

 I still succumb to regular nap attacks. I’m catching up, making space inside for more of this delicious self…recharging and healing. ME, ME, ME!!!  I’m still learning about boundaries, and that’s a tough lesson….. especially when  you realize in a very deep experiential way, that there AREN”T ANY.

Not really.

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