Saturday, July 16, 2011

Grief and the Garden

I had a shock this week. I hadn't been out in quite a while and my route took me past the hospital where I used to work. They are tearing it down. I did not know this. I mean, I knew they had moved to the newer, bigger building...obviously, since I had betadine in my undies there...but had no clue that they were demolishing the old site.

I was washed with grief once more. My acceptance is too fragile for this unexpected reality of it all being gone. I am starting to believe that I won't be a practicing nurse again. I am starting to accept that I had 12 great years, and that life has moved on, and so must I. But, seeing it being broken into small bits of stone and dirt and dust was sobering and left me melancholy.

I can remember being 18 and getting the job as a housekeeper at the hospital. I remember seeing some people I had known when I was younger and being fiercely embarrassed and angry that I was so far behind in my life. I had a rough time growing up, went through even rougher things, and emerged on the other side tempered by flame and pounding. I heard the codes at the hospital and swore to myself that I would be a nurse or doctor someday. That I would be responding to those codes and saving people. After several twists and turns of life, that is just what I did. I put myself through nursing school as a single parent. My son was on the autistic spectrum, but no one knew that yet. I met my husband (again) while in school, and he was there when I graduated second in my class.

I started on PCU, one of the first student nurses to do so. I was so proud of that, and those nurses did a lot to make me humble. I met my mentor there, and she was not just one of the best nurses ever, but she was a surrogate mother and friend.

I also worked as a SWAT nurse, carrying a pager and responding to needs of other nurses all over the hospital. I put in countless IVs and NG tubes for them. I did admissions, gave baths, changed wounds, handed out meds, and did what I could to help a drowning nurse get back on track for the shift. This meant that I was all over, and I could walk those hallways with my eyes closed. Except that now they are gone.

I had a patient, an elderly woman, who got very scared one night. She was doing that shaking fear thing that we have all done at one point or another. I crawled in bed with her and held her. I had a patient in that same room sit on the toilet and tell me that life just wasn't worth living any more when it took that much effort just to take a piss. I had another patient in that room survive a brutal abdominal surgery with my help. That room held the boy who hit a train. That was early in my nursing career and one of the hardest patients I have ever taken care of. He was so young and pale and gone.

The room next door once had a guy who was delirious and thought that he was the Vice President and we were going to be in trouble for keeping him from his duties. That is the same room where the young man died from cancer. I remember his family trying everything. One day I came in and he was soaking his feet in some bright purple berry concoction that they hoped would help. That room was eventually turned into a cath lab. I can remember leaving a code where someone died and having to go back upstairs to my patients and pretending like everything was fine. It was surreal.

Being a nurse is an immersive experience. I don't think about my kids while I am assessing your breathing. I don't hear the tv when you are telling me where it hurts. I forget that I have to pee when you need someone to walk you to the bathroom. I adored being a nurse. I loved examining every nook and cranny of an illness until I had it figured out. I took great joy in doing each assessment methodically and committing your body and your needs to my brain. Nursing is intimate. You have to get close, within inches, to do it well. You have to look, feel, smell, touch, and hear it all. It brought me immeasurable joy and satisfaction.

I have as many stories as I had patients. They are all etched on my brain. They sustain me while I grieve the loss of my role. I can flip through them and know that I did well, despite my limitation of being human.

Other nurses don't talk to me, now. They are "friends" on FB, but they don't ask how I am or where I am or what I am doing. (Well, there are two, for which I am grateful.) I am hopeful that it isn't about me, but more about them. It is hard to be a nurse and then have one of your own fall ill. We are supposed to be hard, strong, work through a heart attack (yes, I had a co-worker do this.), and never give up. That is what makes us so damned good at what we do. It is also why many of us suffer silently and wear our bodies to pieces. It is a culture, I suppose.

I am still figuring out who I am now that I am not a nurse. You know, I would meet someone new and that would be my introduction. "This is Julie, she's A's mom and a nurse at the hospital." I am still A's mom, but he is older now and growing away slowly. He still needs me for things, which I love, but he doesn't like needing me for things, so I have to be careful with that. I am also M's mom, but I have seen that movie and know how it ends. She will also grow up and move on. It is like that code...I have to keep going even though someone just died...but the someone is my nursing career. It feels strange and awkward and I feel like I should cry, but I can't cry because I did that already and now I need to live today.

In other news, with the easing of the humidity, I was able to get outside.

My garden was a neglected mess. I am using those thigh-high lettuce plants to feed our bunnies. The geraniums were almost dead, but I think I might be able to save them. We have some kind of universally bestowed plant, that I thought was a tomato, but now I think might be a pepper?

I have finished the sock pattern I was working on, but now I need to write it up. That will be my week, and to take a little mental break from it, I decided to revisit a neglected project.

These are going to be curtains for our living room. I'd like to do some for every window, but just thinking about the time involved makes me back away slowly in my brain.

Here are the the other windows in that room. I am hoping the curtains will match okay.

I have a dream of taking one room at a time and making it a little bright and cheery haven. I'll probably be 80 before I accomplish it, but it is good to have goals. That can only mean I am looking forward...

1 comment:

  1. i've had an occasional nurse who was like you. some who were clearly burned-out and full of ennui.
    it makes me so sad too, that we the patients are denied your care. we need more like you.
    i hope you can let it go, though, so that you can fully turn toward your next adventures and face them whole-heartedly.
    maybe a ritual of release?
    i'm carefully not looking at my garden.


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