On a recent afternoon, I was texting with a former coworker. We had not talked in a while and were playing the catch up game. Talk shifted to my job and how it seems to be the opposite of everything nurses are supposed to do. Instead of standing guard and blocking the attempts of death to grasp one’s life, here I am now guiding patients down this precarious path. “Don’t you miss the adrenaline of a code? Those crazy moments where your mind races to solve the patient’s problems?”
Truth be told, I do miss those moments, sometimes. The adrenaline coursing through your veins as you dance with death. Listening closely to the secrets and clues the patient’s body is trying to tell us so that the puzzle can be solved. The moments of uncertainty where you are silently calling on God and your experience to attempt to alter the course of a sinking ship. The death duel. “You know, sometimes we would kick The Grim Reaper’s butt and now you just let him win! How is that possible? That whole death thing must not bother you anymore. You must be so used to it that it is nothing now.” I took a deep and sharp inhale before I continued.
“I am absolutely terrified of death. It scares me. I don’t like not knowing what is happening or what will happen. But, that’s not really the point of my job.” What is my job? It is knowing that the inevitable will happen and guiding my patients and families there in whatever way they want to get there. To be their eyes to see, their voices to speak and their strength in moments of weakness. To remind them that they are not alone. I cannot promise what the journey holds, but, I can promise that my own feelings will bleed through. My patients are my own personal heroes. They are in the midst of doing what sends fear to my very core.
Facing death as a nurse is one thing. Facing your own death is profoundly different. I find myself many times in awe of those I care for. If the tables were turned, how would I be? Would I be able to smile and laugh like they sometimes do? Would I be able to crack the jokes about their end that they do? The amount of respect and wonderment I feel escapes mere words. My daily heroes.
But, even though I see the end of life so often, it has and will never be anything short of profound. There are occasions that death sucker punches and shocks me. Am certain that will always be the case because of the magnitude of forever. In some ways, maybe that is why I treat my practice with such reverence and respect.
So, friends, don’t think for a moment that hospice workers are able to shut off our feelings regarding death. I still get nervous. I still get sad. I still get angry. I still get stunned. I still cry. I still swear. This is in some way, my mirror. With each patient, a little bit of courage and bravery is absorbed. Funny though, I thought I was the one doing a job, turns out my patients are the unwitting teachers and guides. My trailblazers. My heroes. My mirrors.