I’ve never seen anyone with Stevens Johnson before. It’s horrible. Any RN who’s ever had a patient with it knows what I’m saying. It’s the saddest, scariest, most traumatic thing I’ve ever encountered outside a burn unit. It made me feel like a horrible nurse. (non-medical peeps, don’t google that. Seriously. you don’t want to)
Damn, I was tired when I got home last night. It was Valentines Day and I worked. The heaviness of the prior days settled over me like a mantle of sadness, and I once again wondered why I had chosen such a hard profession. I could have gone back to school to be anything. Anything at all... and I chose THIS? On PURPOSE?
Then I pictured myself doing anything else, and I could not. In every imaginable reality I can conjure, I wear waterproof mascara and a stethoscope, and I work with people who cannot talk for themselves.
I wonder ~ do I work for them, or with them?, I thought as I popped the cork off a bottle of red.
I filled my glass past the point of convention, and then added a bit more. My first gulp was too big. It was not satisfying and it burned all the way down to my stomach. The warmth does nothing to quench my thirst, nor does it satisfy my need for mindlessness. It would take far more than a few glasses of wine to erase the pain of this weekend.
Not that I want to forget. Exactly. But the pain part of this weekend was that harsh raw pain that leaves a scar.
This weekend was a celebration of love and pain. And that shit wore me the fuck out. Not in the way I prefer.
I recently came to the conclusion that falling in love is something that happens to us. Being in love is something we choose.
So love is a choice. Choosing to look at the person beside you every day for 365 days, or 19,710 days in a row, and say to yourself, “I choose this person” is what it takes to BE in love. From my point of view, love is about acceptance, understanding, and grace.
And if Love looks like a choice, well Grace probably looks like something different to every person who wields it. It is a shield to protect your love, a sword to defend it, a pen to write it a letter, an offering in sacrifice, a song to celebrate it, a poem to express it, or maybe, just maybe, it’s much simpler than that.
Maybe, sometimes, grace looks like a three word question. This weekend I watched a dying man ask his wife, “are you OK?”
She turned around, surprised that he’d said anything. He’d been quiet for days. He had no strength for words, no air for them.
She said “yeah. Yeah, Matt. I’m OK.”
She was across the room, and I was at the bedside. He turned to me slightly and I asked if he was in pain, and he whispered yes. The strength of his speech was fading. I offered him morphine, and he mouthed yes.
If you’ve ever seen a patient suffering from this illness, then you know that asking if he was in pain was the most redundant question in the world. No one could be in anything less than excruciating pain when in this condition. (again, non medical peeps, don’t google it)
And I knew. So I said, “later – if you can’t talk – can you show me if you have pain and want more morphine?”
And he reached up, searching for something, with his left hand. I took his palm in mine. His fingers were cool, puffy, and tight. My little fingers were dwarfed by the size of his. I felt a squeeze, and I looked in his pain-laden eyes and nodded. We had a plan. If he wanted morphine, and was in his right mind, he would find my hand and squeeze it.
Nothing I did could really help though. It was a gruesome sight. I did anything I could to offer comfort, but nothing I did could possibly help. And that haunted me.
The day went slow.
It dragged on.
Click. Click. Click. Went the minutes on the clock.
And suddenly it sped up. We were running out of time. Hurry, Hurry! Places everyone!
She was laying across his body sobbing and he knew he had to go. He couldn’t stay with her any longer. I felt a little helpless for her and a little hopeful for him that it would be quick. Please, I prayed to my God, please let it be quick for his man who suffers so much.
Please, I prayed, Let her forgive us all for telling her it’s OK to let him go.
And then, her ragged breathing was the only sound in the room. The muffled whir of the oxygen bubbling faded away and we realized he wasn’t straining for air anymore. He was quiet and at peace, with his love stretched over his body.
There would be no more searching gestures, no more hand squeezes and no more three word questions for his wife.
“He left me”, she turned on me with a broken angry voice.
“He waited until you said you were ok”, I replied in my most confident tone. “It was his choice. Don’t take that from him. He chose when. He chose and he waited for you to be 'ok'.”
Silence came over the room. I felt the gaze of all the family settle on me, though I did not break from looking at her.
I watched her face crumble as understanding dawned...
Love is a choice. You get to choose to keep it, or let it go, and it is a choice you make for you. No one can choose for another.
Love is a choice.
And after it was over and the tears, the accusations, and the anger began to fade from the room, the great love this couple shared began to fill it. It filled it so full that I could see there wasn’t room for anyone else to squeeze in, and at the same time, I wanted to press myself inside the walls and soak in it a little. Forgiveness was offered, hugs were exchanged, and compliments were made.
“You were a godsend, I’m so glad you were our Nurse. You showed us such compassion, even when we were angry.”
And to that I said, and meant, “I think you all were put here in my path to show me something, too.”
Today I am less raw. I drank. I slept. I cried.
I look at this couple, this family, and I wonder if they could ever possibly know how their love and pain brought understanding to this nurse on Valentine’s Day.