In recent weeks I've studied the clock a number of times while watching a family member sleep restlessly in their hospital bed as I wait hopefully for the doctor to come through. Rounds are few and far between you know.
I can see now how waiting really affects families when they are hoping for just a little bit more news. Labs, once a day. Just once. Unless there's something else to check, to monitor, you have to wait. Everyone wants you to wait. And so you do. Because there's nothing else left for you to do.
And so, my family and I trade places to wait things out, to keep watch, to pray that the nurse has an easy day, a good assignment. We hope in the care one expects a beloved family member to receive. But with the chiming call bells outside of this hideous room with the bright window, and the rushing feet down the hall, I know in my stomach that they are just as pressed for more time in a day as I am. They are fighting the same battle I fight every day. Because they are nurses, and I am a nurse too. But today, for today and in this moment, I am family.
I've been the bearer of bad news on more than enough occasions. It's just difficult when your loved one is on the receiving end. That statement. That statement that no one wants to hear. And yet, it still comes. Rushing into the room as the floodgates fly open. "There's nothing else that we can do," the doctor says. I knew that it was coming, I think everyone else knew. To know and to hear it are two totally different things. My throat closed up and I felt like I could get sick on the floor that was barely supporting my feet. People can't live forever, but deep down, I know that we wish it in one fantastical way or another that it was possible. The doctor continued the lingo that only I understood. Why do we do this? I thought. Why do we spout abbreviations and medical jargon when most don't understand this realm? It's a habit. We are habitual in our motions. And in this moment I realized that more than likely on enough occasions, I could be faulted for the same.
The double vision started. I could see my family in this room, their needs, their fears, and I could see myself in another's hospital room acting on the same infarctions I sensed now. It felt ugly. I felt even more sick for it. Our "mundane" everyday tasks can be the catalyst of someone else's pain. To be quite plain, today did not feel mundane for me. Today was the end of an era of trying to get well. It was the start of comfort care for this loved one of mine. Of which they were ready, but in the moment I realized I was not.
The rest of the day dragged on as we waited so impatiently patient for the hospice team's arrival. We needed to hear the plan. We needed something tactile to hold on to.It is a beautifully raw thing, hospice. Having the gift to pass with comfort and dignity is priceless. But regardless of how your loved one departs this world, the pain is still there. It is visceral and it is raw. It leaves an imprint on your soul. My family has been empowered by this gift, and yet, being on the side of the conversation where we are being instructed and educated felt numbing. Normally the tables are turned. I realized that this is moment when I recognized fear in people's eyes. I remember seeing it there, and I remember feeling it. I can see you now. This part makes more sense now. I feel it now.
I was beginning to feel a slightly double existence. My nursing brain was running while I was trying to remember to be myself, outside of scrubs and unit routines. Here I am the family member providing support and love. It is a terribly strange place to be. Between both worlds. I was hyper aware and yet I felt as though all of my education and experience didn't fit here in this middle dimension.
Discharge day came. I watched as my family member navigated the paperwork and we both attempted to digest all of the information at hand. It's mind boggling, nursing education in the hospital. We want to take our time and do the best for the patient and their families in order to provide ultimate care, yet on the flip side, you are pressed for time. The nurse phones ring while you talk. So much information is shared. There is so much noise and talking. And then it's over. Just like that, it's over. What just happened? I could sense that the room felt uneasy. It was up to us as a family. And it was up to visits from hospice and aides.
The transition home has been a rocky one. Preparation of the home isn't really taught in the sense of what to expect. What to expect in the sense of how you will feel. How time seems to stand still but speed heavily ahead like a bull in a china shop. It's easy to feel uneasy, on pins and needles, waiting for when you may be needed to help in any situation that arises. And this happens. To many. To everyone in this boat. I can see where desperation can sneak in. How sleeplessness can raid your schedule. How worn down isn't just a feeling, it's a symptom. Can you imagine doing this alone? People DO do this alone. Without a support system. I can't even imagine a walk in those shoes. My family has been amazingly supportive like an unforgiving assembly line. Just moving, moving, going, and going.
But it's hard.
It's hard coming to terms with a ticking heart that does have to stop at some point. Lungs do give out you know, even when you don't want them to. And I know this. I truly do. Because I am a nurse.
I know this.
But it's different when it's personal.
So I can see you.
I can see all of you who struggle, who hurt, who have pain, who are coping with loss, who are coping with illness, being a caregiver and those just trying to make sense of what's happening.
I can see your desperation, your agitation, your frustration.
I can see where I have fallen short as a nurse in your eyes and how I can fix it.
This side of the tracks is teaching me far more than I ever expected.
But most of all it is teaching me, reminding me, of the sanctity of life, how precious it is, and how time is of the essence, because at some point, it does run out for each one of us.