This past weekend on call, I came face to face on Saturday night with a patient facing the situation that I myself most dread: old, impoverished, alone, with friend after friend dying. In severe physical pain, unable to care for herself. Terribly anxious. She said that one of her caregivers tells her repeatedly that she is going to lose her Section 8 housing and end up homeless, her worst fear. She detailed loss after loss: her departed friends, her estranged son, the daughter that moved far away, the fiancé who died decades ago, the deity who no longer seems to be there. I sat with her for an hour holding her hand; her nails were painted bright red and her hair was freshly dyed blonde: in some ways, she has not given up. She mentioned that having a glass of wine helps with her pain and anxiety.
After I left her, I briefly considered looking for another tech job. But, no, I am on a completely different path and get continual affirmation that it is right for me. I may also end up physically ill, broke and in unstable housing, but I would at least like to avoid ending up engulfed in sorrow, complaints and negativity. Back in the sleeping room, I fell asleep doing metta practice for this patient. I believe every single second of practicing gratitude or goodwill is beneficial, and may even lead to fewer external losses. It is easy to imagine people avoiding a person who is focused exclusively on what is tragic and horrible. I do believe our greatest wealth is our friendships. As Delia says, “Connection is protection.”
I also decided to redouble my efforts to let go of F. I haven’t seen him in six months, but it seems as if I see him out of the corner of my eye all the time. I still can’t quite believe he is gone, but I don’t want to be brooding about this 25 years from now, so I will try to entertain fewer thoughts of him. Maybe one of these days I’ll even delete the final batch of his voice mails. I don’t listen to them often, but I like knowing I can hear his voice if I want to.
I must say, I felt a lot better (on my own behalf, that is) when I charted my visit with the sad and scared patient the next morning and saw that it’s not just sheer bad luck that has overcome her; she also has a longstanding substance abuse problem.
When I arrived for this shift on Saturday, the departing chaplain said he’d gotten precisely one page. He must have tampered with the pager before he handed it to me, because I got 17 pages, including a Code Blue, two deaths, and a mistaken page from a doctor, which came at 11:30 p.m., after I was asleep.
The deaths were both on Sunday, the first and last visits of the day. One was a woman barely into her 30s. The other was a patient who had come to the hospital to receive a new organ. His family expected a new beginning, not his sudden death during surgery. I explained to them that they were welcome to see their loved one, but that he would look exactly as at the moment of death, with any tubes still in place. Then I escorted them to the viewing room near the morgue and hung out there for an hour or so. Normally we prefer to do viewings during the work week, and we try to limit them to 30 minutes, but since this was such a terrible shock, I was instructed to let them take all the time they wanted. For part of the time, I hung out in the hallway with the two youngest members of the family, whose parents didn’t want them to see the departed relative. Later, one of the parents changed his mind and his 10-year-old went into the viewing room. I’m sure he will never forget this day. Of course, none of them will.