My alarm went off early. It always seemed early on work mornings—especially when I hadn’t slept well. Sleep troubles were a new thing for me. For some reason, I was waking often during the night these days. Maybe it was the stress at the hospital or maybe it was my recently (badly) ended relationship. Either way, I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. At least we were heading towards spring and the sky was beginning to lighten before I pulled into the hospital.
I (mostly) enjoyed my job as a registered nurse in an oncology ward at the local hospital. Though the last couple of years had been particularly challenging with the pandemic sweeping across the world. Our patients were not immune to these challenges, and perhaps felt them more acutely since many of their immune systems were compromised. It was hard to watch and even harder to explain. The whole topic often left me in a foul mood that was hard to overcome. Add in a short amount of sleep and today was going to be a long day.
By the time I reached the locker room at the hospital I had mostly shaken off my morose mood. At least I was working with a good crew today. The room was filled with happy chatter as we waited for our patient assignments. I was delighted to be assigned room 27 again. She was my favorite patient. An elderly lady whose personality warmed my heart, she was dying. Cancer was the documented reason, but I was fairly convinced that a broken heart was playing a part. Maggie, short for Margaret, had confided that her beloved husband and son had died in an accident just about a year ago. Her cancer was found shortly after. Maggie was in the midst of deciding if she wanted to continue treatment or go home and be with her family for her remaining time left in this world. I had cared for her consistently for several weeks while she completed another bruising round of treatment.
After settling in my other patients, I headed around the corner of the nurse’s station and walked down the hallway towards room 27. I saved Maggie’s room for last deliberately so I could spend more time with her without other patient interruptions.
“Good morning, Maggie! How are you today?” I asked as I entered her room.
Maggie stirred in her bed, “I’m not the best this morning, dear.”
“Well, let’s see if we can get you feeling better. I hear you have some family coming today, so we want you in tip-top shape for them.”
Maggie smiled, “that’s true. My grandson is coming to talk with the doctors today. I’ve decided to go home. I don’t want any further treatment. I just want to be with my family and enjoy the time I have left. I have a sneaking suspicion that he doesn’t like my decision and wants to hear from the experts for himself.”
“I’m sure he will respect your decision once he hears all the information,” I replied. “I think you’re brave regardless of what you choose and I’m happy to help explain if you need it.”
“Oh, I don’t know, my grandson can be a bit stubborn and pig headed if you ask me,” Maggie chuckled. “But I might just take you up on that offer. You’re so good at explaining things in a way I understand.”
Maggie spoke in glowing terms about her family—especially this grandson who stepped up to run the family business after the death of Maggie’s husband and son. I have to admit, I often lingered in her room because I was drawn to her sweet soul. She just had a way about her. In fact, the way she described her whole community left me wishing I had parts of what she described.
Each morning as I did her assessment and gave her morning medications, I would take a few minutes to listen to her stories. Maggie only had a few visitors since she lived a distance from the hospital. They were infrequent and she seemed lonely. Understandable since she was used to a vibrant and thriving community.
My family situation was less happy. My mom struggled with mental health and addiction issues for most of my life and my primary parent was my dad until he died in a work accident when I was in high school. After his death, I lived with his parents, my grandparents, for the rest of high school and through college. My mom intermittently popped up in my life--usually when she needed money or was otherwise desperate. I hadn't heard from her in several months which wasn't unusual and assumed I would get a notification of her death from overdose or neglect at some point.
I felt fortunate to have lived with my grandparents for so long. They had a lovely relationship filled with mutual respect, common interests, and a large dose of humor. My grandma was particularly feisty and I can remember several loud arguments between her and my grandpa that ended with one of both of them laughing at the other. That was the kind of relationship I desired--not free from conflict, but both people equally invested in finding a solution. I fancied myself similar to my grandma and I had a distinct “spicy” side to my personality.
My grandpa died while I was in my first year of college and it was his illness that motivated me to become a nurse. He had lovely caregivers who provided such comfort for my grandma and I that the career decision was easy. Truly, nursing became a passion and I loved my work. Indeed, in spite of some of the hardships of my life, it was an extraordinarily ordinary life that I loved.