Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Three Days in One

The day before, the patient had gone to radiology specials to have a pocket of fluid drained. Yesterday, the 22nd of November, they got news that the fluid contained malignant cells.

I knew so the minute I knocked gently on the patient's usually-closed hospital room door only to be politely shooed away by the doctor, a guy I really respect. Though I went to the desk to chart, mentally I was preparing a cocktail of p.r.n. medications I was going to offer the patient as soon as the door opened.

Before I had a chance to go get those, the patient's spouse came out and requested some pain medicine for the patient, and they were about due anyways, and I suggested that maybe I'd bring the anti-anxietal too and they thought that was not such a bad idea.

Though the patient, younger than me and just handed a death-sentence, broke my heart, I held it together and they did not shower in my own tears. Much, anyways.

Earlier in the day I had mentioned that it was Saint Cecilia's Day, but we all know it was another day, different from the celebration of music's patron saint.

Some of us nurses discussed where we were on that day. So-and-so was in 7th grade. Another was home sick from school and watched it all unfold on television. I was at school. Many nurses noted that at that time they had not yet been born.

People say I think about death too much. My family says so, and so does my analyst. I protest that I myself think about death just the right amount of time, but that everybody else thinks about it too little.

Long ago when I was attending nursing school I worked as a monitor-tech-slash-nurse-assistant-slash-unit secretary. They had me do things that the nurses were just basically too busy to do. Sometimes I set up sterile fields for Swan insertions, sometimes I did computer order-entry, sometimes I just sat in front of the monitors and watched cardiac rhythms float by like slow minutes on a lazy summer day out-of-doors.

Sometimes I wrapped up people who had passed on.

This one old guy was someone I had worked with several times over the years, first on the medical-surgical floor where I had worked previously, then later in the ICU where he died. I got the shroud kit and closed the door and curtains to the room, and washed his breathless pale corpse.

He had gone quietly, with some family members present who did not want him desperately coded. They had stepped out for me to do my job after they had said final good-byes. For some reason the television in the room was still turned on. I could barely hear it. Once in a while as I worked to prepare his body for the morgue I could not help but look up at the picture.

It was Denise Austin's fitness show. She was doing a rodeo with her legs and performing a soft-core wide-open split when the door to the room opened.

It was a family member who had not yet gotten the news that the patient had died. They must have just walked into the ICU without going through the usual process of calling in from the waiting area, and they missed the relatives who had just gone home. They gave me a shocked and disgusted look and abruptly left.

At least I had the patient somewhat covered at that point. But spread-eagled Denise on the television must have seemed quite inappropriate to them.

I tried to chase them down to see how they were doing, but they had disappeared out of the unit. Then I explained to the nurses what had happened. They seemed unconcerned about the emotional state of the family member who had just found out, in a peculiarly bad way, that their loved one had died. The nurses were more alarmed that their perimeter had been broken and that the person had just strolled into the unit without proper announcement.

Me too.

That's one dead body story. Nurses have those.

Anyways, back to the day at hand. The patient and their family kept telling me how much they appreciated the comfort I was providing for their grimly-diagnosed loved one. They were one-and-all a very gracious and lovely bunch of people, and I made sure to tell them that a lot. But the patient's news of the day changed things.

Like that day changed us all back in 1963. We struggle still to regain what we lost then.

And like the voice of Saint Cecilia resounding with comforting music we can all hear and feel.

How we need that music. How we need to change back, in some mysterious way that I cannot begin to explain.


dorsano said...

How we need that music. How we need to change back, in some mysterious way that I cannot begin to explain.

I've never heard it explained like that before - but I believe anyways that I know exactly what you feel.

may said...

there is no way you cannot think of death too much when you smell, feel,hear, and see it everytime you go to work.
and yeah, i will be mortified to even hear denise austin's undescribable voice if i was overwhelmed with grief.

Lizzy said...

Shrimp...I think Dors beat me to it in stating what I liked about your post...YES the music.

Be well!