Sunday, December 31, 2006

Getting next to beauty.

We had three patients die last week.

One had bounced back and forth from the unit, getting better and then worse in ways nobody could diagnose, and steadily losing weight. Her breasts hung on her chest, her ribs showed through her shirt. She wasn't convinced we weren't consipiring to confuse her about where she was.

Eventually, finally, after eight months in hospital, she died.

She was my age. To the day.

The second was much too old for his diagnosis. You'd expect a patient with his problem to be thirty years younger; instead, he had lived long enough to have married the woman who nursed him back from a war wound. He died with her holding one hand, me holding the other. It was two days after his diagnosis was confirmed. He simply decided to die.

The third sacrificed everything for her kids. When the tornado hit seven years ago, she laid down over her children and covered them so they wouldn't be hurt. She spent the next seven years as a quadriplegic with horrible bone infections from dirt that was driven with the shards of wood into her wounds. She had lived as long as she could with the pain, the skin grafts, the constant infusions of this-that-and-the-other.

Eventually in this job your soul gets shredded. Weeks like last week can do it; losing one person who you thought might make it can do it.

At times like this, you need beauty. Doesn't matter if it's a sunset or Body Worlds or a good bottle of wine; you need beauty.

And getting next to it can be enough. Getting to hear fetal heart tones coming from the belly of a woman who's had successful emergency surgery can be enough. Seeing one person walk that you never thought would is enough. Having a patient who's well enough to eat the food his family brought in for Eid ul-Adha is enough.

We throw stones at the Devil, and he retreats, for a while. He leaves us enough space to slide in next to Beauty and strike up a conversation.

Tonight I have a bottle of shockingly expensive Champagne open in front of me. I have a cat who tolerates me rubbing against my legs. I spent an evening with friends, drinking gently and eating very good food. Getting next to beauty is enough.


Susan Palwick said...

This is a beautiful post. Thank you for writing it, and for taking care of those patients. May 2007 bring you all the beauty you need.

Anonymous said...

Here's to a 2007 that will enable you to see that you have all the beauty you could ever need right inside you. Love your guts, honey.

shrimplate said...

Nozze di Figaro and Arcade Fire, a bottle of Cigare Volante with bread and a paste of anchovies, chevre, and olive oil... Koi and kitties, chess with my kid, good books... Humor and snark, sharing orgasms with a good friend, and pizza.

Sometimes all the beauty you really need can be found in the making and eating of a pizza.

Judy said...

What a beautiful post!

And if you ever have a day when you're struggling to find a little beauty, you might want to look here

girlvet said...

Thanks for making me realize that I have to be gentle with myself and restore my soul. Being a nurse can eat away at your soul sometimes. It is nice to know that we all share the same feelings.