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.