My job is unique in that it provides perspective on a daily basis. It also makes me face some of my biggest fears.
A few weeks ago, I was at my hospital, nearing the end of my shift. I was in the middle of shift change, and I was giving report to the nurse standing next to me about my patient, sitting in the hospital bed. I went through the diagnosis, medical history, and significant events that happened throughout the day. We were about to leave when my patient said something that made me stop in my tracks.
“…Parkinson’s is hard. You know, you die slowly. I have just wanted to give up.”
My heart dropped, into my feet it seemed. I was silent for a second. I turned and looked at this patient that I had been taking care of all day.
“Well, you’re doing a really good job.” I said. “Don’t give up, you’re one of the good ones.”
The patient smiled at me, I returned the favor. And with that, I turned and left the room. I continued to think about that statement for a long time after. When my patient said that, my heart felt the pang of the same, familiar hopelessness. It’s a feeling one can’t understand without having similar experiences. I desperately wanted to encourage this patient, but knew that sometimes it’s next to impossible to do so. Even writing this right now, I’m close to tears.
I think back to the endless days and nights that I spent crying over my MS diagnosis – The never-ending barrage of fear and hopelessness that I felt, and still feel sometimes. I imagine this patient, after all those years, was feeling exactly the same way in that moment. Some nurses enjoy the action-packed shifts in the ER, some enjoy the unpredictability of patient conditions in ICU or in trauma, and some nurses enjoy taking care of little ones in the NICU. All of which are equally important. But in this moment, I knew my place was, and is, in taking care of those with chronic diseases. It’s a unique population of patients.
My fears are not the same fears as many 22 year olds. I see diabetic patients on dialysis, and can’t help but wonder if that will be me in 40 years, despite the effort I put into taking care of myself. I find it difficult to talk to my patients who have a long history of MS. But the most important thing is that I understand how they feel. I worry about ending up in a hospital bed, being one of those patients in 40 years. It scares me. I face that fear every time I go to work.
The day I found out that it was MS, I was at home, in Argyle, TX. My mom answered the phone and it was my primary care physician. I sat on my bed, feeling ill, and watched as my mom flitted around the kitchen looking for a piece of paper and a pen. She kept saying “Ok” over and over again. I could hear the catch in her voice at one point even as she tried to sound business-like. I watched her closely as a sense of dread came over me. What was it? I knew it wasn’t just migraines I was having. She hung up the phone and came over to me, tears threatening to spill over. She sat down beside me on the bed and I remember looking at her and asking, “What is it?” She took a deep breath and said, “It looks like MS on the MRI.” It didn’t take me but a few seconds, my own tears immediately began to fall. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. My breaths quickly began to turn into sobs. A sense of panic welled up inside me. I desperately wanted to believe it wasn’t true. I couldn’t stop crying. I called my father and brokenly told him the news. It was a brief phone call; I couldn’t handle much more. Gradually, my tears stilled and I told my mom, “I’m driving back to Fort Worth tonight. I need to get out of here.” She let me go, and I drove the hour back to Forth Worth (thank the Lord it happened without incident). The drive back I was very stoic, trying not to feel emotion, trying not to fall apart. I remember getting back to my empty duplex and staggering to the couch because I couldn’t walk very well. I started sobbing again. I wanted to scream, I wanted to break things, and I wanted to throw up at the same time. For a few moments I felt the pull of wanting to hurt myself. I was in shock. I wanted to go to sleep, wake up, and know that it was just all a bad dream. I realized that it was a bad idea for me to be alone at that moment. So, I phoned a friend and asked if he would come over and be with me. I was afraid of what I would do if I was alone. I remember yelling over and over, “I have MS…..I have MS. Isn’t diabetes enough? It’s not fair.” The tears didn’t stop until about 3am, until I had exhausted myself.
It’s been a little over 10 months since my diagnosis, just shy of a year. Those gut-wrenching emotions haven’t surfaced in awhile. But my patient that night, in simple terms, described those exact feelings, only dulled by years of experience. My life so far, in nursing, I’ve realized something. I have something that many of those patients don’t. I have Jesus. I have my faith. How else do you pull through that sort of emotion? How else can someone continue to live through that? My job is to be a nurse. But, there is so much more to being a nurse than knowing the science. My job is to tell patients they’re going to be okay, because I’ve experienced it. I’m not in the same state of mind as I was that night. With my diabetes and MS, I’m quite aware I won’t live to be 100 years old, but I know I’m going to be okay. Evidence such as waking up with a low blood sugar the other night, even with Nyquil in my system, makes me confident that God is watching out for me. I know now that God caught every single tear that fell that night, and every tear since. My job is to bring hope to these patients with chronic disease, to show God’s compassion and love to those who have experienced many of the same emotions I have. It’s a powerful force, and it quite literally brought me back from destruction. Thanks for reading.
“Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?”
“How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”