Monday, April 19, 2010

0530 Monday morning...

...and all I want to do is take a blood sugar.

Instead, I get into an involved conversation with the patient about the aftereffects of his brain surgery.

It's as much of a conversation as you can have with somebody who has expressive aphasia; the tumor has left him unable to form complete sentences without a whole lot of effort, and he's still having trouble naming objects. Still, you can tell when something's bothering somebody, right? So I stuck around after I stuck his finger and let him fumble-talk.

We went through what to expect in terms of his recovery. He'll get his speech back--there was no permanent damage to his speech centers. What he said next surprised me.

"I don't want to die."

In one complete sentence, with no pauses.

"I...don't...know...not...good..."

There was a long pause. He finally looked at me, rolled his eyes, and sighed out one word:

"Catholic."

"Oh," I said, "I get it."

"I...don't...know...what's...in...store..."

"You don't know what's going to happen to you when you die?" I asked.

"Yeah."

Then he said, "...Want...to...die..."

"Give me more" I told him.

"Want...to...die....Wife. Daughter. Other daughter. Forty...forty-three...have...own...things...not...be...like..." and he stopped. He waved one hand, taking in his body in the bed, the drains coming out of his skull, the lines and cords around him.

"You don't want to be a burden to them." I said, more certain of this than the last one.

"Yes" he said, definitely.

I was stuck. Theological discussion of what happens after death is not one of my skills. Four years at a Christian college left me with a complete uncertainty of who's going to hell and who's going to heaven (with a few notable exceptions) and totally unprepared to coax out the threads of the fear of God out of a man who could barely say his own name. Likewise, I couldn't be certain that he wouldn't be a burden, in the sense that we usually understand burdens: I couldn't assure him that he would be able to talk as well as he had in the past, or that he wouldn't need help, later on when the tumor came back, with such things as dressing and peeing.

He went on. I was going to stay at his bedside for as long as this took. There are more important things than checking blood sugars on somebody who's needed no treatment for them for a week, after all.

"My...wife. Saint. Never...not...doesn't...angry. Not a cusser. I...cuss." Again, the hand-wave.

Cussing is not, as far as I can tell, a problem for God. But cussing is not what this is about, not really. Cussing is a stand-in for all the things he's screwed up, all the times he had to kill somebody during his time in the Marines, all the things he could've done better. I know this, and I feel my heart break a little for him. There's so much in there that he wants to get out, and right now, at this time when it's so important to be able to confess his sins, his speech is tortured and elliptical.

I tell him, "God speaks in metaphors and without words. You don't need to have words to talk to God, and I don't believe that you've done anything worth going to hell for."

Then I remember: his wife told me how he still has nightmares about the man whose throat he cut, years ago, in some other country in some other conflict.

"Don't...know...what...He...will...think."

There were other things I said. I remember most of them, but they're not important to put down here. Some of them were funny. Some of them weren't.

Why, I raged at God, do You put me in these situations? You know I don't have the answers to why You do the things You do. You know I can't just sum up everything with some pat theological answer. You were the One who made me question every-damn-thing You do, and yet you present me with somebody who needs solace? Fuck you, God. Just... fuck You.

I drove home that morning with Neko blasting as loud as I could stand her, wondering if I had enough beer in the house to make a difference.


16 comments:

Kimberly said...

I certainly don't know why God does what God does, but if I were to guess I would think God might put you in these situations because you don't have the answers, you can't sum it all up with a pat response, and you question(ed). Also, you have the compassion and sense of priority to stay and talk with someone who needs solace more than he needs a blood sugar. Another patient incredibly lucky to have you for a nurse. Honestly, I hope I'm half as good at it someday.

me said...

Maybe you were put there, in that particular spot, because you were the one person who could tell him the exact things he needed to hear...

The universe is FAR smarter than we are, and far more confident of our skills than we could ever be...

Trust, and then just Breathe ~~~

me said...

Maybe you were there because you were the only person who could/would tell him exactly what he needed to hear...

The universe is far better than we are at deciding those kinds of things... and it trusts us to do the job FAR better than we ourselves so...

So ~ listen, and Breathe...

Ya done good ~

Sunflower RN said...

I grew up Catholic. I don't have all the answers either. But the essesnse is to let him talk. His version on Catholic id diffenrent than mine. Doesn't mean that if you say you don't know you will cause him more distress. He know that a nurse will not be able to adequately answer his questions. He wanted to talk to you about this because he felt safe to ask. You done good. God will see that you made the effort to comfort the dying even if you think it is not something that you know how to do.

Question though, has he had the sacrament of the sick? This may be what he is trying to get at. This very touching rite has comfort built-in. Confession, benediction and a bon voyage all in 20 minutes. It would be something to address with him. Would help him get ready to go to God. and even if he is not looking like he is ready to go, it may help him relax a bit.

Good luck, hang in there and know that you are of some comfort to him.

ThirdDegreeNurse said...

I hear your fear. It's OK, though. You are in the right place. At the right time. With the right people. Because you are the right person for that patient at the right time. We're all at different points in our understanding of Spirit and I think you were the Light to the next level for that man.

And all that bullshit about heaven and hell. Well, it's just bullshit. Take it from a hospice nurse. The old medieval concepts of the heaven and hell are really archiac. I see both every moment right here. Right now.

'Drea said...

I think you did a great job hearing him out...

Molly said...

Man, I want to hug this guy.

As an aside, there are a lot of people who use stories like this as "proof" that religion just fucks people up and we need to let go of the God delusion. I want to punch those people. And I'm saying that as an agnostic who has no idea if there's a god or gods or an afterlife or WHAT and is reasonably okay with that fact. Everything brings good and bad with it.

But I hope that any god that does exist blesses you mightily for what you do for your patients. Because damn, we need more people like you.

Allison in Texas said...

You understood, and you listened.

He was incredibly lucky to wind up with you instead of some bible-thumper.

It's people like you who help me hang on to the shreds of my pathetically weak faith.

Keep up the good work.

woolywoman said...

yeah. I wish I believed, but I don't/won't/never have. Instead, I have these patients who believe...why?

Jose' said...

I believe we aren't supposed to know why everything happens. I can tell you that if certain people in certain cirles weren't working on a particular night in a particular place, there's a good chance that my Sister and I wouldn't have made it to support my Dad when Mom's 'surgery' went awry. Dad Would have been alone.

I believe people make differences. They give hope, love, words, or just company to people who need exactly what you can give when you are exactly right there.

And you were. And if you choose to believe or not to believe that God placed you there, is your call to make. Just the fact that an old man opened up and shared those things is huge.

Anonymous said...

I think God was using this guy to tell you to stop cussing.

R

An Open Heart said...

Everyone mostly covered it....you were the one person the Universe decided was the one person that man needed right then. God, the Universe, Spirit, whatever you or anyone else wants to call Divine Intervention, called you, at that moment in time for that man. YOu, were perfect for his needs. And, THAT is all you need to know or understand.

You were both blessed with a few moments of grace.....just dwell in it.

peace
S

nurseXY said...

Great post.

And kudos to you for shaking your fist at God. I firmly believe we are designed, destined, *encouraged* to struggle with who He is, and what that means to us.

I also firmly believe that God is big enough to handle our struggles and our questions, and yes, even the occasional F-you, if it brings us closer to Him in the end, and it reveals more of his plan for each of us.

A book you may enjoy is Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. It's not your typical Christian book.

messymimi said...

It's because you question that God has you in that position.

A person like him does not need a pat answer that might or might not be right.

I don't blame you for yelling at God -- I do that a lot.

RehabNurse said...

It's times like the one you experienced that really make me believe the nursing school spiel, that since nursing is 24/7, sometimes our jobs are not to diagnose and answer the questions, but to be there when people need us.

And you were there when he needed you.

Keep it up!

Rob said...

Jo, I have such a deep, profound respect for you -- your understanding that...

"cussing is not what this is about, not really. Cussing is a stand-in for all the things he's screwed up, all the times he had to kill somebody during his time in the Marines, all the things he could've done better. I know this, and I feel my heart break a little for him. "

Made me bawl my eyes out for just a second -- I'm glad there are people like you who have that kind of quick understanding and compassion. It renews my faith in humankind.

Love,

Rob Norton