Friday, February 27, 2009

I have two favors to ask from you, my minions.

1. If you ever see me fall over onto the floor, unconscious and obviously the victim of some enormous bleed in my brain, step over me. If you must, stop and tell me that you'll miss me, but please keep going. 

2. If you love somebody, tell them *now*. Don't put it off. Call them, email them, text-message them, send a homing pigeon--whatever it takes. If you've been putting it off for five minutes or five days or five years, do it NOW.

The young ones are hard--any nurse will tell you that. The ones that get to me the most, though, are the old people, not just young-old, but *old* old, people in their late 80's on up into their 90's, who still have families and spouses that love them. For some reason, it's hard for me to watch a husband sitting by his wife's bedside, looking back over sixty years of marriage--or more--and knowing that this is it, that she doesn't recognize him any more, and having to make the decision to go to palliative care. He was the one that found her and held her head in his lap as he called 911, and he was the one that the EMTs had to help up off of the floor after they'd strapped her to a stretcher.

The middle-aged are hard, too. These are the folks only a year or two older than I am, who have young to teenaged kids at home and mostly stable relationships. One man's wife told me that she hadn't told him one morning that she loved him, because he was asleep and she hadn't wanted to wake him. Later that day, he was found down at home after a bleed from a previously undiagnosed congenital arterio-venous malformation. He'd been having symptoms for weeks but hadn't mentioned them, because he hadn't wanted to worry her. She found it all out from his colleagues, who were all...wait for it...paramedics. Like he was.

He won't be getting out of bed.

And then there are the young ones. 

This happened years ago, but it came back to me (does anything ever really leave you?) this week: I first noticed that something was different when a group of impossibly tall, impossibly slender, impossibly beautiful young men and women started visiting one room in particular, carrying impossibly expensive minimalist flower arrangements.

A couple of days later, I got assigned to the patient in the room. She had been a model and was now in status epilepticus--a type of seizure activity that we can't stop and that usually ends up wearing out your brain and killing you. Even heavily sedated to the point that she needed help breathing, she was still seizing. You couldn't see it on her face or in her body, but the EEG was insane. 

All of her model friends had been visiting for a couple of weeks. They'd put up contact sheets of her work, pictures of her daughter, and filled the room with flowers. They came in groups and singly, sitting shifts with her as their work schedules allowed. One guy came more than the rest. He'd help bathe her and rub lotion on her feet, working her feet back and forth to try to relieve the contractures that were starting there, and would massage her hands to help loosen her wrists. Throughout all of that, she never opened her eyes or even responded to pain.

I walked in late one evening just before shift change to find him in bed with her, with her head cradled on his shoulder. That was a little odd, but I wasn't able to do more than pause as I walked into the room before he said this: "I love her, and I never told her so. I was always too afraid to tell her I love her."

People: There Is Not Time To Put Things Off Until Later. Even if you *do* have fifty, sixty, a hundred years left of your life, you still don't have time to put things off. Go and do it now: tell that person that you love them, even if it means waking them up. Swallow your fear and speak up, even if it means you'll get laughed out of the room. There is not time enough in the world to heal the regrets you'll have if you don't do it now.

And, please: if you find me on the floor, just keep going. I will have done everything I needed to do by the time that happens.


Penny Mitchell said...

I love you.

You know that, but I love you.

Brenda said...

So very well written and so very true. My youngest is now home and honorably discharged from the Marines, but I made sure every time he called when he was deployed, to end the call with 'I love you', because... you just never know. And I haven't stopped, just because he's home.

And I don't know your personally, but I think you're great.

Judy said...

We love you too!!! Thanks for taking care of me when I was one of your patients!

Isabella Golightly said...

Ah, man, that just brought tears to my eyes, for two reasons; firstly my husband suffers from Epilepsy and the day he steps under a bus because he's having an episode is only just a heartbeat away, and second, it's my 16th wedding anniversary today & I need to go & wake him up to tell him I love him. Waaaaah.