Tuesday, December 14, 2010

*sigh*

Thanks to the latest episode of "Fresh Air", I got to thinking about being a medical person and talking about your medical problems with patients, if those problems relate to those patients.

I didn't tell any patients that I had cancer. There was never really a reason. I mean, I guess if I'd had a patient who'd had surgery for a half-centimeter polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma on her right palate with my surgeon, I might've asked her about it, but that chance never presented itself.

It's not like the respiratory therapist I work with who, while being a weird guy, is also a very *nice* guy, and who assures the stroke patients that they, too, will survive and thrive after their strokes, just as he has. You just don't bring up "Oh, hey, by the way, I've got the C" to patients unless there's a reason.

Now I have the reason, more often than I ever expected. I have patients that haven't seen a dentist in a decade, patients with weird lumps and bumps on the floor of the mouth that they haven't had checked out, and patients who simply ask outright why the hell I talk so funny. And I tell 'em: I had cancer and had my palate removed, and the prosthetic makes me talk funny, but I'm cancer-free now.

Sometimes, when I'm called to start an IV on a patient that has JP or Penrose drains coming out of her neck, I ask, "Cancer?" When the patient nods, then presses the pain-pump button, I stick my hand out and say, "Me, too."

We shake hands, and I nod once, and then I stick them.

What do they see? Probably nothing they'll remember, given the pain meds and the anesthesia, but:

Cancer is like a swimming pool. When you get the diagnosis, you're shoved suddenly up the ladder onto the high-dive. You're essentially alone, staring down into a pool full of people. (This is not to diminish the efforts of doctors and surgeons and nurses; it's just...well, you're on your own. It's you, and this thing that's trying to kill you, and that's really it at three a.m.) Some people have really nice floaties, and some people tread water, and you can see that some people are exhausted.

And you have no chance but to jump.

When you look at the water, you notice that there are people who are sitting around the edges of the pool. Some of those folks have their feet in the water. Others are on nice comfy lounge chairs, with novels and fruity drinks. They're completely dry. Still others are coming up the ladders or up the stairs, soaking wet, and looking for a towel.

You promise yourself as you jump that you will get a lounge chair and a cabana boy and a fruity drink. You promise yourself, as you're falling, that eventually you'll be out of the pool and dry, and that you'll be able to shout to the people who are still in the pool, without having to get wet again. You swear up and down that this'll happen somehow, even if you've never taken a swimming lesson in your life. Then you hit the water, and it's all overwhelming.

If I'm doing my job right, the people I talk to will see me standing on the edge of the pool. I'm still soaking wet, and I haven't found a towel. I'm yelling at them, telling them that the water will hold them up if they just relax and float. (Floating, letting the water hold you up, is not the same as not fighting--it's just using your strength in a wiser way.) I'm not dry yet, and there isn't a lounge chair free yet, but I'm on the edge of the pool.


21 comments:

clairesmum said...

thanks....i'd be honored to have you as my nurse....you are wise...and strong, to be able to put into words that you share with others, this description of the path your life has taken these past few months. be well.

AM said...

If I ever get cancer, I hope I can be like you. You're brave, you're witty, and best of all you weren't relentlessly upbeat and positive when any sane person would be howling at the moon at the unfairness of it all. Thanks for writing.

Lurkette said...

Another great post, fantastic image.

There is a lot I thought I'd say here in the little comment box, but I find myself blocked. So I'll restrict myself to thanking you for another creative, honest, encouraging post.

Sign me,
Treading water in Jerusalem

Thirddegreenurse said...

I thank God that I've never had cancer, but I empathize with you. It's the Survivors Club-- a damn honorable one to be a part of. Love your writing, Jo. Keep on keepin' on.

You give me hope when I have to give 18 year olds salvage chemo amidst their families' tears.

birdergirl said...

Oh, Jo - you are so wise (and it is just not because you have had an awful cancer). Your patients are very lucky to have such a knowledgeable and compassionate nurse. The patients with whom you share your diagnosis will be comforted, knowing that you have been where they are now.

rnraquel said...

Wishing you a ginormous, fat fluffy towel, the cutest cabana boy, and the biggest, fruitiest drink ever! Hugs to you :)

Penny said...

I am humbled.

missyc said...

Courage and cheerfulness will not only carry you over the rough places in life, but will enable you to bring comfort and help to the weak-hearted and will console you in the sad hours." -Sir William Osler

You are not alone. You've describe exactly what I've been feeling 27mths after diagnosis. TQ for sharing

messymimi said...

An excellent description for surviving. Thank you.

Eileen said...

The moments come - you'll know when. And in a while when you look back - it'll feel strange but you'll have this feeling about who you've touched.

Besides us - of course.
Hugs

Just My 2¢ said...

Cool word picture, kiddo. It fits. Survivors offer folks that are still in treatment reasonable, rational hope. Survival isn't impossible, so don't give up.

'Drea said...

Like @Just My 2 Cents -- cool popped into my mind. It's cool and good that you're at the edge of the pool.

I want to say that I *enjoyed* reading your post but that doesn't seem appropriate and, yet, I can't think of a good replacement word...

Elyse said...

What a lovely post - aw heck that makes it sound just not special enough. What a lovely piece of writing. There are a lot of people who feel that their personal person-ness should be divided from their profession by an impenetrable barrier. I'm sure you have no idea what it really meant to make that connection with other cancer patients. I know that for me, life-changing moments have turned on what the other person likely regarded as a throwaway line. They don't come from reading the latest tome or listening in a lecture hall. You cast out small but generous parts of yourself, and I'm sure magic happens somewhere.
Oh yeah and "why the hell do you talk funny?" LOL!

Cartoon Characters said...

I know that in nursing they *tell* you as a student not to get personal with your patients....however, I have often found it useful to make mention of similar experiences - it's a good way to connect - but not ad nauseum or making it all about MY illness instead of the patient's. A brief mention the way you did is perfect. And I think patients appreciate it.

iamanurse said...

Jo, as a Hospice RN of 8 years, I can verify that when you open yourself to patients and families, it makes you a better Nurse. I have shared my losses with patients and their families. I have lost my Mom,, way too young, at 61, of lupus. One year later I lost my Dad - way too young at 72 -to lung cancer. Then, 18 months later my sister - way too young - at 36 to lupus. Since then, my brother-in-law, my sister's boyfriend, and my ex-husband all committed suicide. So... when the opportunity presents itself, and I have developed a relationship with the patient and family, I can say " You know what, what you are feeling, this REALLY Sucks- but when you die, your family will be ok, and they will. I can share the feeling of grief with them. Many times when I see family members in our tiny community, they say " OH, you helped so much". So Jo, share, when you can, because it helps. And I am happy that you are at the edge of the pool.

girlvet said...

I think you should submit one of your posts to a nursing journal.

Great things are coming for you.

Mrs4444 said...

Wow. This is beautiful. Love the metaphor. I plan to link this up on Saturday (my Saturday Sampling post). Thank you very much. I wish you luck in your continued healing.

Emily said...

The way you described your horrendous experience is startlingly beautiful. The best of luck to you in laying in a lounge chair with a margarita.

Mrs4444 said...

Linking to this later tonight...Thanks again.

Marla said...

What an amazing post. My younger sister has a rare form of cancer. Once she was diagnosed, we quickly realized this wasn't just about her but affected all of us.

I will be telling her about your blog. I think it will really help her on this journey.

Thank you.

Life with Kaishon said...

What an interesting perspective. So glad Mrs, 444 linked to this. Thank you for sharing.