Saturday, February 20, 2016

Today I went to a funeral.

I walked in to the church and looked for people I knew. The first person I spotted was Mike, Jenna's husband, so I walked straight up to him and hugged him.

I have never seen anyone look as empty as he did.

Then Jenna's mother found me, and her brothers, and her various other relatives, and I got hugged and kissed to the point that I no longer cared about leaving makeup marks on their nice clothes.

I sat down about six rows from the back, in a pew that didn't have anybody in it. I stayed there until the music started and the family came down the aisle. Jenna's mom grabbed me and said, "Jo, you're family. Come sit with us." I started to ask "Are you sure?" but she had my hand so tight that I decided to shut the hell up and go with it.

So I ended up in what was nominally a family pew, right behind the family, with Lauren and Casey, the PAs who took care of Jenna when she was really sick.

I'm glad they were there. I didn't cry because they were there.

Everybody there but me, I think, was a believer. They read poetry and psalms and proverbs, and talked about the value of a capable and thoughtful wife. They talked about the love of a good friend, and how they were sure she would be waiting for them in Heaven when they died. They called her a pearl of great price and said her value was beyond that of rubies.

Here is the Jenna I know, the one who I was both nurse to and friends with:

She was jealous of the shirt that I have that says "My cancer is rarer than your cancer. Neener neener."

She was always more than ready to talk about something other than her illness. Mostly, that something was how ready she was to get back to work (teaching) or her kids or her husband, but it also turned to how weird life could be.

She was totally unshockable. I sent her texts with pictures of the guys across the street doing half-naked yoga on their roof, or the pile of clothes somebody left in my front yard, or the latest whacko project that one of the neighbors had conceived, and her response was always "I miss Littleton. It's such a great place!" Sometimes that was followed by "Did that dude ever come get his clothes?"

Jenna was never, that I saw, really angry about what had happened to her. I'm sure she got angry at times, or got rebellious against what she saw as God's plan for her, but she never did so with me. That's not to imply that she simply accepted things as they were: she most emphatically did not. As Lauren said, the most incredible thing to watch was how she went from being scared and anxious to being strong and confident. She didn't so much fight as she just lived, in defiance of everything.

Mike and Jenna visited me at work one day and I asked to see her head. She was really, really cute without hair. Like, more attractive than anybody has a right to be.

At her funeral, there was a slideshow: Jenna with Mike. Jenna with college friends. Jenna, as a toddler, dressed up in a bee costume, her grandmother by her side. Jenna holding a fishing pole, frowning at somebody off-camera as she stood knee-deep in a river. Jenna sitting atop some promontory somewhere, with all the sky behind her, having hiked all that way. Jenna pregnant by the ocean.

Jenna and her baby son, both of them bald as cueballs, grinning the same grin.

Here is the secret of being a nurse: your memory becomes a library of people who are no longer here. Sometimes that makes you feel like there's been too much grief. Sometimes it makes you angry at a God that you're not even sure exists, because if He or She did, then why would we need children's hospitals or funerals where toddlers are in the front row? Mostly, though, it just makes you thankful.

I didn't make a huge difference, or do anything heroic, or actually do anything special. All I did was break my personal rule and become friends with a patient. This time, that person died. This time, I was stupid and opened myself up to that horrible feeling of not having done enough, the feeling of having failed a person who is much better and kinder than I will ever be.

And next time, I will do the same damn thing all over again.

I got lucky this time. I met Jenna, and I am proud to have been her friend. She was good people.

And I will never, ever, ever forget her.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Things of which I will never tire, part three thousand and forty-six:

1. The look on an attending's face when the nursing staff in the NCCU actually knows something. We read our patients' charts before the shift begins, we review lab results, we read EKGs and check out the results on CT scans and EEGs. Yet, for some reason, the attendings will never get over that first, pure shock of a simple nurse knowing something he (usually "he") doesn't about a patient.

(Nota bene: this is not all attendings, just a couple. Dr. Vizzini and Dr. Manbags come to mind.)

2. Pure thankfulness from a resident when we solve a problem or save them from a hideous fate. Dude/ette, that's what we're here for. You got problems? Yo, we'll solve them. Check out our scans while the 'puter revolves 'em.

3. The patients who say they don't want to take metoprolol/metformin/insulin/hydralazide for their problems, because they "don't want to mess up (their) bodies with medicine." These patients fall, generally, into two camps:

     a. The patient, male or female, with an A1c of 10, a resting systolic BP of 210, and a creatinine of
         4; or,

     b. The patient, female, with acrylic nails, bleached hair, Botox, breast implants, and liposuction,
          who has had her mercury amalgam fillings removed because they leak "toxins" into her

*** *** *** *** ***

Yes, I've been a long time gone. For that, I do truly apologize.

Back in December, the fine folks at Mind Over Media, the people who'd been my liason with Scrubs online magazine, informed me that my services as an essayist would no longer be necessary. (Nothing wrong on my part; Scrubs decided to go in a more fashion-related, nurse-o-nality {dear sweet baby Jesus} driven direction).

I realized quite suddenly about three weeks ago that I'd been blogging, or writing weekly essays for some company or other, for more than twenty years. It started in the early 1990's with a website called ParentsPlace and went from there. I also suddenly realized, about three weeks ago, that I hadn't written shit for HN, and it actually felt pretty good. So I continued on, not writing anything, until I had had enough "I've got to blog this" moments at work and in my personal life to make it worthwhile to put fingers to keyboard again.

It's a little strange, having dissected both my personal and professional lives for--hang on to your asses--twelve years!! to suddenly stop, but I think it was good. I quit looking at life through the lens of bloggable versus boring, and had a break from trying to stage things in writing in my head. Maybe the quality of my stories will improve? Perhaps that's too much to hope, but it's been an instructive, and very pleasant, break.

Thanks to all of you who wrote, wondering if I had been abducted by aliens, the Zeta cartel, an underground supplier of international supermodels, or PETA. I am fine, and I appreciate your concern.

That said, I have to make lunch for tomorrow. We have a brand-new attending, just hired on, whom we have to break in. My job will be getting him used to reports that contain Queen lyrics.