Friday, June 11, 2010

A Broken Can Opener

Written 04/06/10 - Posted 04/11/10

My can opener fell apart in my hands as I was opening some chicken for my dogs, and I wanted to throw it through the kitchen window, so angry did it make me.  I just bought that damned thing about a week ago, I was tired from work and sweaty from walking the dogs and just, well, cranky.  Then Lisa’s sweet face popped into view at the door, and my anger melted.  

I opened some wine for her and made myself a drink and we sat down in the living room.  Laura is my friend who is getting a divorce because her husband took up with hookers and had unprotected sex with them and gave Laua HPV so she had to have an hysterectomy.  

We were just catching up.  Mostly she wanted to know about my job and how I feel about taking care of dying people.  She worried that I was doing it too soon after My Dead Husband’s passing.  (In the South we have a  euphemism for word in the dictionary.  My mother never once uttered the word dead in the same sentence with my father’s name, and he died in 1955)!

My work is hard, but it hurts in a good way, and I am good at it.  I tried to make her see that the process involves all of the the already grieving family and loved ones who are losing one of the importand things in their lives - the active love of someone for whom they care deeply.  Lauren still has her parents and all of her siblings, so she has trouble wrapping her head around the fact that my life has been rife with loss - read that death. 

Death is as natural a birth.  That is a fact, an irrefutable one, and I have survived many deaths.  I think that having survived all that makes me a better hospice nurse.  I know how people feel when a loved one dies.  I am able to embrace their grief with them, because I will forever have my own grief, no matter how long I live or how much I learn about how to deal with it.  I am also comfortable with people who hide in and behind their grief.  They turn away from me, maybe seeing me as some sort of angle of death.  This is a game with no rules.

The patients?  I have no fear for them or of their dying.  They are the lucky ones who get to leave their agony behind forever and pass the suffering to us survivors.  The only time I really worry about them and is when I know they are restless and uncomfortable.  Some families are the same ones who let their pets live past their time just because they don’t want to give them up and grieve for their loss.  

These are the people to whom I say, Don’t be afraid of pain meds.  The meds are not why the your loved one is dying.  They are not dangerous and are here to provide comfort and peace.  Giving the gift of a pain free and peaceful passing is nothing to fear, and indeed may bring some comfort to you.

But if he sleeps all the time, how will we communicate?  I want him to hear me when I say “I love you.”  

These are not bad people,  just misguided, if I have the right to judge.  I encourage them to reverse roles in their minds and ask themselves if they want to die an agonizing and restless death.  I encourage them to keep talking, even when their loved one appears to be unaware.  I talked to Clint for hours before he died and after he was in a coma.  I know he heard me.  

Lauren is a good listener and is sensitive.  We both cried as I explained my work to her.  

Then a mutual friend dropped in and tried to bully us into going with him to the club for dinner.  I was still in my scrubs and refused, instead, I popped off the lid of can of deluxe mixed nuts (not peanuts), poured them ito a whimisical fish dish that I love and sat it before him.  Here, have an hors d'œuvre.  

Whereupon, he dug through the nuts, ate every pecan he could find and went alone to the club.

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