Updated: May 10, 2020
The whole house sleeps. The weight of the blanket felt from my toes to my chest. The alarm, loud through the sleep. Everything inside of me wants to stay in that bed, but it’s not an option. So. The day begins before the light greets me. Coffee, shower, food. A pair of faded navy blue scrubs that on the positive side of things, fit like a pair of well worn pajamas. I walk out the door, knowing I won’t be home until the day is done. Later, as babies are born, I know I will not see them the entire day, from their waking until their sleeping. I will only be able to sneak into their room, lay a hand over them, and kiss their head that is comfortably warm from sleep. When they are babies, I steal them and put them on my chest or in the crook of my arm to sleep next to me. Taking all I can get. They never know I am there. I will lay in bed and wonder what I missed that day. Proud that I am able to provide for them, but a part of me hating it all the same.
Amidst this crisis, there are those of us who understand the calling of caring for patients, and there are those of you whose callings lie elsewhere. God put a call, a gift, a purpose on every one of us. None of them have less meaning than another. But, as we are all steadily focused on the ones doing the caring while the world seems to be falling apart, let me share a tiny glimpse into this reality called patient care. In particular, acute care. The last resort for so many. The place they intentially surround you with a team of specially trained individuals because you have, in fact, deteriorated to the point of requiring highly specialized, intense care. The most frightening destination to a patient and their family, but one where they, alternatively, typically feel the most safe.
I wrote the following years ago about an event that happened very, very early in my career. I still remember this experience as if I am there today opposed to well over a decade ago. I can close my eyes and feel myself standing at the exact spot I stood at inside that room as this moment played out. And yes, to all my nurses, I remember the room...
I am so naive, so untroubled, so inexperienced. A mother sits in the hospital bed in front of me. She is young. Not even 50. She is purple from her disease, and she sheds knowing, hot tears down her face as she struggles to maintain a mother’s composure for her children on the other line. They are states away, desperately trying to beat the clock of death. I wonder if they know that they will not make it. I wonder if they realize that this precious phone call will be the last time they hear their mother’s voice. I stand there, bearing witness to it all, and something inside of me knows this is what I was made to do.
How do people survive such situations? How do humans do it? The deep, never-ending sorrow that sometimes overshadows everything. I do not know, and I am only tasting the truth of what true pain is, but I feel it’s presence in that room. I try to avert my eyes as I am the stranger in a monumental moment of this woman’s life. I acknowledge that I know nothing of her life, but I am here to see the end of it. I am here to hear the last conversation between her and her precious children. And, my God, now that I have carried and born three precious children of my own, I realize what I saw. I realize the strength it took that woman to keep her composure and comfort her babies when she was fighting to simply take a breath. I know in my bones these moments are changing me, but at the tender age of 20, I can’t possibly grasp how this is molding me. I can’t connect how this is affecting me, because at the end of my shift I walk through the doors of the hospital into the cool night air, and I go back to my life. I learn very quickly that separation is survival in this world. And I learn that I have the ability to separate.
As I remember this moment, as I have so many times before, I remember the true feeling of not knowing what to say. I remember that moment changing me. I know how that experience among so, so many patient experiences made me into the person- the whole person- that I am today. I know how my very being shifted, took my comfortable world and turned it on it’s axis. It was the beginning of a transformation that made me a person who became comfortable with the experience we all must one day face- death.
And so today, I just want to acknowledge that there are thousands of baby nurses and doctors and respiratory therapists going to fight this war totally unprepared. They are starting their careers at a time when lines are blurred, rules are being made as they go, and survival mode has a new meaning. They are about to collide with situations they are totally unprepared for.
Let’s be gentle. Let’s be patient. Let’s put our arms around them in whatever way we can and do nothing but support them.
And to all the amazing, wonderful people out there with years under your belt, Godspeed.
And maybe today, we all just need to shore up for what’s coming, and I hope the following verses hit you just as God needs them to.
Ephesians 6:10-18 The Message (MSG):
A Fight to the Finish
“And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”