I am not a storyteller
There are days in nursing that seem to drag on...and there are days that fly by. Patients and families grow to be part of your life, an extended family, and they make those days. This is a story of an exceptional day in my life as a pediatric oncology nurse. This day changed me forever.
- 15 Published Jan 11
I am not a storyteller. I am not a person whose story needs to be heard. But I have met those whose story is worth telling. And so I will set forth to the best of my ability to share their story. It is not one person, not one story, but a story of many. It is a story of life, and death. A story of how we do not always choose our path, our fate, our death. But I have learned that we can alter all of these. We can choose to change the direction of our path, accept our fate, and choose how to die. And by doing so, gracing the world.
Let me take a moment to say that I do believe in God. I am also a spiritual person. I believe that the energy we put into this world, somehow makes it back to us. Perhaps not in this lifetime, but sometimes, in another. I believe in a good God, I do not believe that my God makes bad things happen. I don't believe that God makes people sick, suffer, or inflict harm upon others. Bad things happen. God's presence in my life gets me though those times. That being said, I will share this story of grace, undeniable grace. A story of strength, love, happiness, sorrow, loss, and will. It is a story that will forever be a part of me, burnt into my memory, my soul, touching the deepest part of my visceral being, changing my actions from that point forward. Bringing me to tears with a thought, and also a smile that comes with those tears. There are no words to give this human experience the spiritual essence it was. I will try to be a storyteller.
I knew a girl; she was to me, simply put, a smile. A big beautiful, smile. She lived with ease, and made a room glow. I didn't meet her in perfect circumstances. In fact, I met her in the worst of circumstances. She had a diagnosis of relapsed cancer. But, still, she smiled. Through every horrible, miserable step, she smiled. Her mother was there; ever present, and they had a connection that was palpable. Having been thru a previous diagnosis and treatment, this was not a road they were ready to embark upon. But yet, there she was. In my hospital, smiling. Things went well, and bad. Things were better, then worse. Staff and this girl connected. She wasn't a chatty girl, but when she spoke, there was a purpose. And I just wanted to be a part of it, of her, because I could not get her smile out of me. Time passed and cancer decided to fight hard. But, this girl, this mother, they embraced each other, they prayed, and they made decisions that I can not begin to imagine. You know, the questions of more treatment vs no treatment. Palliative treatment vs experimental treatment.
And then the proverbial elephant in the room presented itself, only no one knew about this elephant. The girl with the smile, her mom was pregnant. How does a mother have these discussions with her girl with a smile? How does she hold her belly and feel that life inside her, while having those discussions about treatment? She did, they did. Oh, they did. And the bond grew, you could feel it. They made choices, difficult choices, as a team. The three of them, the mom, the baby yet to be, and the girl with a smile. They decided to go for it. Get the experimental treatment, just go for it. There was a baby coming, and the girl with a smile wanted oh so much to meet that baby. I wanted her to see that baby. We all wanted her to see that baby. So, away they flew, the mom, the baby yet to be, the girl with a smile, and the unwanted passenger: cancer. Life can be mean, and cancer can be brutal. It steals, and robs, and it slowly tortures. Cancer destroys. It rips and tears, and sometimes doesn't give up, until, well, until it wins. And so this story goes, the mom, the baby yet to be, the girl with a smile, and cancer, they all flew back home. I can't tell you how they felt, I can tell you they clung to one another. But still, she smiled.
Now, new discussions needed to occur. Tears were shed, and lines were drawn. Clear, clear lines were drawn. This girl with a smile, she was going to see the baby yet to be. There were no papers to be signed, they decided those decisions were going to wait, no; this baby was going to meet the girl with a smile. We were all in for this fight. We were praying, we were helping to comfort, and we were loving. Me, I was angry, personally, very angry, I hate cancer. I wanted the baby that was yet to be, to get here, so the girl with a smile could know it, so it could know her. But who am I? Certainly not anyone who is worthy of telling this story, still, here I am.
Now, like then, I was trying to make sense of this reality. I am a nurse, just a nurse. I have no great gift. I give medicine, hold hands, wipe tears and pray. I have witnessed life winning, and loosing. All my years have taught me that I do no have answers. I do not dictate the plan. That, I have learned, is between people and their God. I simply help them see those plans thru. I personally believe in a time, a time between life and death. Most people never get to witness this moment. It is a moment with clarity. A clarity you can see, feel, and touch in space, it is a physical moment. This is the moment when a dying person decides. They decide to live, or to die. Some, like our girl with a smile, choose. She chose to take action. The spiritual me, I believe that she and the baby yet to be made their own plan, with the help of God. You see, the girl with a smile was tired, so very tired. And yet, she wanted to meet the baby yet to be. So, in a moment, a plan was formulated, a spiritual plan...but those are the best kind really, are they not? And there we all were, fools, thinking we were in charge; doctors, nurses, social workers, housekeeping, child life, all of us. Fools. Like we knew what was really going on. Stupid, stupid people we were.
You see, this girl with a smile and the baby yet to be, they were in charge, they knew. And so it went on that magical, life changing, devastating day. The baby made its presence known, it wanted to come into the world, wanted to see the girl with a smile. Tired, the baby knew she was tired, and it wanted to hurry up and meet her. Mommy hadn't planned on this, you see, she was suppose to meet the baby yet to be in another hospital. She thought she needed to leave the girl with a smile to go have the baby. No, my head screamed no! I knew if that energy was not around the girl with a smile, she would slip away. So again, very quickly, decisions were made. And the mommy and the baby yet to left her side, but at the same hospital as the girl with a smile. And I told her. I held her hand and told her they were right downstairs. And when that baby came we were going to go see them, she was going to meet the baby yet to be. That became my purpose...but again, I am a fool. Decisions were made, the mommy called the girl with a smile and they spoke, mommy was signing the papers, the Do Not Resuscitate papers, it was going to happen. Because mommy did not want to see her first baby, the girl with a smile, on machines. They had talked about this many, many times, and it was what they wanted. "ok mommy", said the girl with a smile, she was present, she knew it would be soon, she knew she just had to hold on for a while longer, and she would see her mom and meet the baby that was yet to be. Quietly, inside, I fell apart. And the plan continued, with the grace of God and the administration of a very humble children's hospital. Sometimes things are bigger than us, and universally, much more important.
And somehow, this magic the girl with a smile and the baby yet to be had, well, this magic spread like a fire. It touched people who had never met them or never even heard their story. And thru God, people made more decisions, administrators made calls, they made the extraordinary happen. Some things are more important than us. The phone rang, mommy told the girl with a smile the baby was here, and he wanted to meet her. Everyone cried. Just a while longer. Then, something wonderful happened. The door opened and in came the mom, her entire post-surgical team, her anthologist, the baby and his nurse into the room of the girl with a smile. There were more tears. Tears of joy, of sadness, and of deep, deep pain.
I have done this before, I have helped children die. I have held their hands, and the hands of the families. But, I have never stood in the presence of God. And yet, there I was. I could feel him. He was there. Two hospital beds locked together, two bodies intertwined, tears, and a baby in between them. An image I will never, ever forget; not in the deepest part of my being. A mother, a baby, the girl with a smile, cancer, and God. And that mother, she was the unsung hero. She held her babies, and cried, and prayed. We spoke of miracles and memories. She held her newest baby and fed him. And then, she gently handed him to his father, and she was present, she was her mommy, and the girl with a smile knew. She felt it. She was a big sister, and she was a daughter, and she was a part of a miracle. She made that happen. Her spirit, her presence, her being, her smile. She touched people. She touched me. She helped me feel my God in a way I never had.
She saw her plan thru, her and her conniving partner, baby yet to be, who, all of a sudden, was. I saw a miracle. And I will allow that miracle, her, to live on thru me; my actions, and my belief that there is a God. I will be forever grateful, for she choose me, and my tiny humble hospital to touch lives. She lived about 7 hours after the baby was born. She waited for everyone to be there. It was her moment, her plan. She waited for everyone, and that is one of the last things her mother said to me, “this is all she ever wanted...for everybody to get along”. Families are strife with difficulties, but let a baby and a girl with a smile set the plan, and you begin to realize how insignificant those difficulties, and you, actually are. Some thing's are more important than us. And there I was. I was humbled, I was numb. I prayed, held hands, and wiped tears yet again. It was time for me to say goodbye. I told her she had done it, she was a part of a miracle. She touched people. She met her brother, she brought family together, and it was ok to be tired. And I loved her. And I would never be the same.
I am not a storyteller. This is not my story. This story belongs to a girl with a smile and a baby. I am not a storyteller, but, it is a story worth sharing, is it not?Last edit by Joe V on Jan 11
I have been a nurse for 25+ years. Doing pediatric psychiatry and pediatric hematology/oncology. I love nursing, yoga and writing.