Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Conga Line

Today I slept.

It's been a long week. We've had a number of folks with undiagnosable whatevers--things that we either have to wait for the disease to progress to be able to diagnose, or for the patient to die so we can diagnose whatever hit them on autopsy--and that always is hard.

So I got up this evening, after sleeping most of the day, and cooked. I had a bottle of wine, three different kinds of cheeses, and a selection of fun vegetables, so I cooked.

And just after ten o'clock, I was suddenly the head of the conga line.

Every nurse has a conga line. It's made up of the patients who die--the ones whose names you remember, whose various afflictions you remember--the ones you might've known even before you were a nurse.

Unexpectedly, I felt Darlene's hands on my shoulders. I kept washing dishes until I knew that Velva was behind her, kicking in rhythm to whatever four-beat polka they play where she is. Curt joined in, his wool sweater as scratchy as it ever was before herpes took his sight and hearing, and made his sister take over the coffee shop. Last in line came Astin, dead of metastatic breast cancer that we caught too late. She and Darlene kicked in perfect rhythm, while Velva and Curt had a good time making up new steps to the music.

I conga'ed around the apartment, macaroni and cheese and zucchini cakes forgotten.

Some of my patients pray to Saint Therese. I pray to the people that I loved--and who hasn't fallen in love with a patient, wished they had been friends with them before--for help, and guidance, and compassion.

And sometimes we dance with them, in a silent conga, grinning, as the music only we can hear and the hands only we can feel guide us.


Judy said...

Mine are too little to dance, so we sit and rock.

Anthony will forever be chief among them. I took care of him every weekend for 7 months while I was pregnant with my youngest. His beautiful smile still lights up my nights.

Most of them weren't with us that long, but Anthony has lots of company.

Anonymous said...

OK, Jo, you made me cry. My patients had different names than yours but they're still with me, too, some 40 years later. And some days they're the closest friends you have. Bless, and keep dancing.

Intelinurse said...

wow, what a creative and touching way to convey such a universal concept. Well written.

woolywoman said...

When you're a pedi nurse, the conga line is more like a playground filling up- all the little ones running in, the swings swinging, yelling, laughing, teasing you about your un- cool sneakers. Then they're gone again, at least for a while.

Anonymous said...

Just so you know - I am so thankful for that conga line!!! I too shed a tear, because you helped one of those in your line more than you will ever know, as well as myself. Thanks for being there through that horrible time - I can't imagine anyone else but you to hold my hand and to let me cry. Thank goodness there are RN's out there like you who know just what to do and what to say. Keep on bloggin!