I will never forget the face of the nurse who held my hand as my bed was rushed down the hall to a delivery room. My son was coming so fast. Too fast. With what little air I had, I begged her, “Tell me exactly how to breathe and when to to do it – like I’m 5 years old. Over and over, because if you don’t tell me I’ll forget!” And she did.
What an amazing job, I think to myself every time we drive past that hospital. Helping women when they are simultaneously at their strongest and weakest. Being their hand-holder, their metronome, their cheerleader…
Last month I started feeling sick. It was hard to describe at first – extreme fatigue, sudden loss of appetite, too many trips to the bathroom. Over the next three weeks what we thought might be food poisoning became a GI virus…then a bacterial infection…then, after a battery of tests, a complete mystery. I lost 20 pounds and couldn’t walk without a cane because my right leg was so swollen and painful. My doctor immediately diagnosed me with a blood clot and admitted me to the hospital – but not before warning me that we were likely facing Crohn’s disease.
She was right.
That first night in the hospital was brutal. A full day of scans, tests, and lab work was followed by a full night of scans, tests, and lab work. I was delirious and didn’t sleep one minute – sick, dehydrated, confused – but you were there.
My nurses, nursing assistants, and nursing students.
You apologized as if it was your idea to take my blood every 6 hours for 2 weeks straight – you sighed and fussed over every new bruise on my dehydrated, anemic arms as though they were your own, getting so creative with your methods and where you would try to stick – and you reminded me to breathe, because you knew I would forget.
You listened patiently as I laid out my plan in a panic for how we would deal with the aftereffects of colonoscopy & biopsy prep while I was on bedrest for a large blood clot in my leg, requiring your lightning-fast assistance each and every time I needed to use the bathroom. You nodded, you smiled, and you said, “Yes, that’s exactly what we’ll do – we can make this work! Just breathe.”
You bemoaned the injustice of an Ice Chips Only diet – and then a “clear liquids” diet – even though it didn’t really bother me. And when I could eat solid food, you monitored each meal the same way I watch my 3-year-old, calculating how much and how often, cheering me on each time I could eat more than the last.
I watched you repeatedly do math in your head at all hours of the day. Medications, fluids, minutes-since-this-happened, hours-since-that-happened, how much I drank, how much I lost.
You made me laugh me pre-MRI as you replicated the noises I would hear in the machine because I have recurring nightmares about being stuck in an air vent, and you wanted me to get through it without having to stop too many times. As they wheeled me away, you reminded me to breathe, because you knew I would forget.
Every day you asked how my husband was doing overseas and how I was managing without him. You asked how my kids were dealing with the separation, and how my mom was handling single-grandparenting. You included my dad and brother in all our conversations and decisions, and tried to make them as comfortable as possible, too.
My next stop was the CICU, where you sat with me during three long blood transfusions, holding back my hair as I threw up and rocking me at 2am as I cried. “Ssssshhhhh….it will be over soon…just breathe,” you whispered, because you knew I would forget.
You endured a (melo)dramatic explanation the Tarantino-esque scene I was afraid would unfold as you removed the dressing from my incision after the placement of a blood clot filter. You didn’t even roll your eyes or laugh when I had to ask you where exactly the cut was, because it was so tiny I couldn’t see it.
And when you knew our time together was coming to an end, you taught me how to give myself Lovenox injections in the stomach at 3am, and you reminded me to breathe, because sweet mercy, you knew I would forget.
I realize now that it’s not the job that is amazing; it’s the people.
To be compassionate, selfless, whatever-it-takes vessels of mercy for a living – as your chosen profession. You do it in addition to being parents, spouses, friends – those roles we all share that manage to tap us out. You sacrifice your sleep and your schedule to make sure there is always someone there in the darkest moments, reminding us to breathe. You’re there when we’re born. You’re there when we die. You’re there for the highs and lows in between.
My story is so small and pales in comparison to the suffering and diagnoses of millions of people in this world. But I’d like to think they agree with me – knowing that my words are insufficient and incomplete but the most heartfelt and genuine ones I can manage: