When Timing is Everything

It’s rare I have an emotionally draining day on the phone with patients. That’s why I moved from face-to-face nursing to a virtual environment, the distance.  Most of the time I talk to people who simply need to change their diets and figure out ways to move more so their blood sugars are in better control. Pretty boring stuff. I’m not usually tasked to walk with a young heroine addict through the decision to enter rehab. The conversation started with her need to vanquish night terrors; it took 30 minutes for her to confide she was using and taking her psych meds. To say I was ill prepared for that task is an understatement. I’m not a psych nurse nor am I social worker. Junkies are my least favorite patients. It made me angry the call was triaged to me. It wasn’t until the next morning I realized I was angry because of my helplessness rather than the stupid system governing how the patient calls are distributed.


And then my very next call…the absolute next one…a patient and his wife had just arrived from home after seeing the oncologist who supported their decision to stop his cancer treatments. I held it together as she described his decline over the last week. I cried (I was on mute) as she described how difficult it is watching her husband decline too rapidly at the whim of a terrible inoperable brain cancer. Again, the helplessness was overwhelming. I could offer nothing to him; I could only offer the reframing of hope; the discussion of what hospice looks like; what a good death can be. Hospice I can manage but I like a little warning I’m embarking on the “reframing hope” speech would be helpful so I don’t become a sodden mess on mute.


That night, I was troubled with dreams of these people. Over and over I heard our conversations. Over and over my hands were tied and my heart felt a little shattered for their crap destinies. I haven’t dreamed of nursing in years and those dreams are usually discovering I have a whole floor of patients I’ve forgotten and they are sick and dying as a result of my forgetfulness and neglect.  These people just flashed, faceless and their voices clear as they rehearsed their stories over and over again.


What a relief to awaken to a simpler day: pre dawn snuggling into the strong and capable arms of the New Boyfriend. Later, more relief washed over me as I sat in the sun, fawning over Beatrice who has been quite the warrior princess keeping the coyotes in check. We had a chat about how amazing and brave she is; I rubbed her neck and side until she fell asleep. Funny how giving to a creature who can’t talk back or say thank you or “wow that feels good” could mend that broken part of my heart.

About Laura

When my nest emptied I moved from the big city to a little big town to tend to a ramshackle yellow house on the edge of town. These are my Yellow House Days.
This entry was posted in at the heart of things, Just me. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to When Timing is Everything

  1. I am so sorry that you had those experiences but don’t you dare feel helpless! You don’t know the comfort that you have brought me and my daughter over the last week. Being able to ask someone who “knows” the scary things that are going on right now has absolutely saved my sanity. You have been that strong voice in the dark that we really needed to hear and without you we would be so confused and lost. I can never thank you enough for being there for me.


    • Laura says:

      Thank you Rena. I’m just happy your daughter’s issues have resolved. So scary to have tiny babies and mom in such a way. I don’t envy your road–the sandwich generation of steroids: Gramma to preemie twins and caregiver to your own mother–but you will do it with grace.


  2. It is a tough, tough job and one I wouldn’t have the chops for. But thank God you do.


  3. Haralee says:

    I commend your efforts! Thank God there are people like you who can do this job!


  4. susan558 says:

    You’re made of something very tough and soft at the same time to do this. Thank you.


  5. I imagine you as a gift to these people, even when you think you have nothing to offer. To witness the pain of someone coping with a loved one–that’s so important.


    • Laura says:

      I had someone tell me a few months ago that it was because we were on the phone it was easier to talk about hard issues. I find that fascinating but I do understand how that distance might make it easier to admit to feeling failure or anger or other things you don’t want your family to know or see when you’re fighting a catastrophic illness.


  6. suzannestavert says:

    Thank goodness for people like you. Isn’t it amazing how strong you were for those patients? You became their strength. Amazing and thoughtful post, thank you.


  7. Cathy says:

    What a gorgeous post about a job that is the most difficult and which I give you the most credit for. You are quite an incredible lady. Those situations are frightening, overwhelming and real. No wonder you dreamed about it. Oh, and animals are always the answer – unconditional love.


    • Laura says:

      As much as I bitch about it, nursing is a calling and an avocation for me. I have to remember that when I get upset at the “system” and remember the ultimate reason I am there.


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