Sunday, May 02, 2010

Conversations with Ginny the Chaplain

Ginny stayed late tonight, ministering to a family whose father was out of his mind both with pain and with the effects of a glioblastoma on his frontal lobes.

We say the worst things to the people we love. We treat enemies better; we treat nurses best of all. Long ago I recognized this, and I try to reassure the wives and sons and daughters of the absolute faith that abuse implies, but sometimes it falls short.

Somehow, having a six-foot-four female Baptist chaplain tell you the same thing has more effect. I can't imagine why (she says, from her five-foot-two height).

They abuse you if they love you. That's a weird, twisted sort of love, and not one I'd like to champion even at the worst of times. Yet it happens, most often when people aren't in their right minds; aren't themselves.

Sometimes, blessedly, we get the chance to say: Do not love me. I cannot be the person you love.

I had that chance this week, both with a patient and with a person who was not a patient. In the first case, I was able to say it out loud; in the second, silence was the best response.

Do not love me. I will hurt you later, by sticking a heparin injection into your belly, or a cold shot of insulin. Do not love me: later, when you are not expecting it, I will not be able to be what you need or want; my brain doesn't work that way.

It's very simple, love, and it makes no difference at all. Sometimes, at 00:41, you're dealing with somebody who loves you simply because they're jacked up on pain meds and crazy from a tumor. Other times, at more reasonable times of day (for those of us who don't work nights), you're dealing with somebody who's totally with it and who has taken time out of a busy day to say, "You know, I do love you."

Either way, it makes no difference at all. Love is a changeable thing. It makes us capable of hurting the people closest to us. It makes us capable of making promises that nobody could ever keep. It makes us capable of acts of cruelty that we'd never consider if we didn't feel that particular way about the person on whom we're dumping.

At the end of the day, love makes no difference at all in the present moment. It's a nice memory, and it's a nice nostalgic thing to look back on, and it's a nice, sentimentally valued emotion, but it allows such violence, and such awfulness.

I am looking forward to the day when I'm not up in the middle of the night, blogging at my workstation, minimizing the page every time another nurse walks by.

I am looking forward to the day when I can live my life like I did in microbiology, all those years ago: without emotion, looking only to the evidence in front of me to tell me whether this thing the professor had shoved at me was TB or gonorrhea. Somebody get me the ethylene blue; I'm jonesin'.

Night nurses are the strongest people I have ever met. Remember this: the person who works with your family member overnight hears things, and sees things, that no other person ever does. And somehow, some way, they have to deal with it.

I have Ginny. She's a day person, and she's as clumsy with words as I am in motion, but she's almost enough.

3 comments:

Loki said...

It also allows for massive sacrifice for the benefit of others that would never be done under other circumstances.

The evidence only world of microbiology is an enticing thought. Emotion is much of what makes us human though, among other things. It sucks a lot of the time though, and I hope your night gets better this evening.

I think you're a badass, fyi.

messymimi said...

True love is rare -- it is always putting the needs of the other ahead of the needs of the self. It is not within human nature to be able to do that consistently.

I agree with Loki.

lostonthefloor said...

"Night nurses are the strongest people I have ever met. Remember this: the person who works with your family member overnight hears things, and sees things, that no other person ever does. And somehow, some way, they have to deal with it."

Love. It's how some of us deal with it. I go home, shower and crawl in next to the woman I love and the horrible things I've seen and done the night before seem to fade away.

But that's just me.