Friday, August 8, 2008


Nothing to report from the hospital this week, as we began our new rotation with three days of clinical skills in the lab. We learned about starting IVs, oxygen therapy, and pouching an enterostomy. What's that? It's simply a hole in your tummy where your large intestine drains into a bag. The nurse's job is to make sure the exit site stays clean and that the bag gets emptied and changed as needed. Kinda makes wiping butt sound fun, eh?

The last hour of our skills training was on palliative care, that is, caring for the dying patient and their family. We mostly listened to our instructor, who spoke of the logistical and practical aspects of this care, as well as shared some of her experiences with dying patients. She told us of a time when, as a nursing supervisor, she entered the room of a dying patient. This man had not had any visitors, and was soon to die. She saw he was holding on, struggling against the inevitable. She walked over to his bedside and held his hand. She told him that he had led a good life, and that he didn't have to hold on anymore. She told him that it was okay to die.

And then he died.

We were all sitting there in silence as she finished the story. And then she really brought it home for me by saying, "No one should have to die alone."

Damn. How many people do end up dying alone? That's just wrong. The epitome of a basic flaw in our culture: unnecessary loneliness. I used to work for a non-profit called Challenge Day. It's an amazing organization that leads workshops in high schools on social oppression issues that manifest as bullying, teasing, well, you remember high school. One of the issues that continually came up was how alone kids feel in high school, even in the crowded quad of 1,000 students. How can we do this to our kids? To ourselves? To our elders?

On Friday a group of elders came to our school to perform for our class of nursing students. They sang some funny songs, did a rap of sorts, and told their stories of being in the hospital. One thing that struck me the most was a piece on getting old and being lonely. I worked in a nursing home as a young teenager and remember how lonely everyone looked. Even in my constant state of stoned, I knew this was wrong.

The elders performed as part of our gerontology class. Another assignment was to interview an elder living in the community. I'm fortunate to know quite a few elders; it's made my life much more rich. This past Saturday I interviewed my friend KH, a 74 year old man who I really love. The last question of the interview was "Do you have any words of wisdom to share?" KH said,

"When you're working with older people in the hospital, be sure to touch them. That's really important to older people."

So I'm sitting here typing this next to my 2,000 page nursing textbook. We had about 200 very dense pages to read this weekend. I got through maybe half of it before my brain started melting. Then I started wondering if I'll be able to keep up with this program. Then I realize that I'm not that passionate about all this medical stuff anyway. It's interesting, but it just doesn't fill my heart. And now, as I write these words, I remember why I'm becoming a nurse:

No one should have to die, or suffer, alone.


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