When it Hits Home

As health care workers, we witness tragedy, illness and death on a daily basis. We learn to cope with it, block it out, shake it off and “Just keep swimming” as Dory the fish would say. Each day as we walk out of the hospital at the end of our shifts, we step into that imaginary phone booth to twist around and shed our super life saver cloths. No one will ever know what we’ve experienced during our work day if we don’t want them to.

In the hospital I work in as a nurse, we refer to each other as family. There’s the hospital wide family and there’s the unit where you work family. Regardless of a person’s job description, we have one common goal: to save lives. We celebrate holidays together. We pass each other in the halls, we chat about our lives, and we share joy and sorrow.

Unfortunately, I’ve experienced illness and death on multiple occasions among my coworkers in my 22 years as a nurse. It doesn’t get any easier as the years pass, as we get older, knowing what we know about life and death.

Monday morning, my unit family learned that an employee in a unit that we work in conjunction with every day had a medical emergency over the weekend. Although they were still alive, the outlook did not look good. The hospital family held a prayer service. This employee’s unit family held a prayer breakfast. A Go Fund Me account was set up.

Early yesterday morning we learned that this member of our hospital family was placed in hospice. After learning this, I took some time to reflect and pray for this person. I didn’t know this person as well as I know others but she always smiled and nodded at me in passing.  I thought about her in her street cloths and not her super life saver uniform,  as the human being that she is outside of the hospital, how full of life she was prior to this illness and how sad her family must be.

As I went along with my day yesterday I had that familiar feeling in my gut that I often do when something is wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I was sad. I’d gone out for a random lunch with a friend, ran errands, cleaned up my house and took a nap. It was a good day. Then I figured it out.  I’d just kept swimming after learning about my coworker in hospice. I thought I could just reflect, say a prayer and shake it off because that’s how we are programmed so we don’t go crazy. Not this time. I didn’t have my super life saving uniform on. It made me feel vulnerable. I realized that I would never see this coworker again and it hurt.

I woke up this morning and knew that I had to write this post for my coworker, for anyone who’s ever lost a coworker, and for the non medical world to understand how much it hits home when we lose one of our own. Later this afternoon I learned that God has taken my coworker home. May she rest in peace.

 

When You Can’t

There’s a load of laundry in the dryer that needs to be folded and a load in the washer that needs to be moved to the dryer but I can’t do that. I can’t get out of my chair because my can’t put my book down.

When I am reading a good book it’s as if my mind has left the physical world and stepped into a different world, leaving my body as a shell with eyes that look up from time to time. I become so engrossed that I can no longer hear the sounds of my own environment or what’s going on around me. A building could fall down around me and I wouldn’t notice. Today my family senses that I have again been entranced by a good book so they finish their breakfast, clean up their dishes and go about their day. I am still there reading my book.

It’s a sunny day with a clear blue sky and I know I should be outside but I can’t go. My mind is paralyzed. I can’t put my book down. My husband asks, “Are we going hiking or not”. I know I need to go hiking because stepping into the woods has lately become my way of recharging my battery in preparation for the week to come. The walls are closing in on me now and I begin to have a small panic that no one else can see. Do I put my book down and go hiking or just keep reading?

Ordinarily I would just trudge through the book and be done with it so I can rejoin my own world but today I did put the book down. It was becoming violent and I needed to process what was going on. Plus I couldn’t take my hike away from myself.

My daughter couldn’t go hiking because she’s studying for finals so I went hiking with my husband and son. Each of us entered the woods with our minds full of whatever. As we hiked, we allowed the sound of the breeze through the trees, the flowing river, dirt, sweat, bugs, rocks, climbing over branches, crossing rivers, dipping our feet in the river, steep climbs and green all around us, nature;  wash the whatever out of our heads.

I can’t speak for my husband and son but I emerged from the woods with a mind a peace. I came home and finished my book.

The book I couldn’t put down today was: Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

 

 

Chapters

It is the morning of my son’s high school graduation. In less than 12 hours he will cross the stage to receive his high school diploma. One chapter in his life will close, another will soon begin.

I am in my bedroom as I write this. I take a sip of coffee, write a little, pace up and down the hall and sit back down to write more. I walk by my son’s bedroom. He’s still asleep. I know that he is dreaming of his upcoming senior week trip to the beach tomorrow with his friends. In my mind today, I am reviewing chapters k-12.

I have so much bottled up emotion in anticipation of this day. Early on in my career as a nurse, I learned not to publicly display emotion. I don’t like to. Three of my friends who’s kids graduated last year tell me it’s inevitable today. In last years commencement, my friends knew where each other was sitting and every time they’d make eye contact with each other, they were all tearful. They told me to bring a box of tissues. Some days I want to burst into tears at the thought of my little boy achieving this milestone and grab him and hold him tight. Other days I’d like to drive him to the beach himself so he can bury his senioritis deep into the sand and come home refreshed and ready to work his summer job, clean his room and be willing to contribute to household chores again.

I’ve always believed that the anticipation of a major emotional event is far worse than the actual event. I know I’ll be fine later. Tomorrow I’ll watch my son get into the car with his buddies for a week at the beach. I will pray for their safety and be grateful that my son has this experience.

I look forward to the college chapter of my son’s life in the same way I look forward reading a new book that I know I’m going to enjoy. Dorm life. College courses. New friends. Fun. Choosing his major. College marching band. Watching a new level of my son’s intellect evolve. I can’t wait to read them all!