Thursday, 11 April 2013

Our Stories

One of the things I really struggle with as a nurse is death. I hate it when a patient of mine passes away- who does? I have met fellow nurses who have said that they find death an easier process to nurse each time they encounter it. I think I am the opposite. I never shy away from nursing a palliative patient but I doubt I will ever find a part of caring for the dying easy to deal with or accept.

Last year I met a lovely young lady called 'Robin' in her 40s who passed away of cancer. I got to know her and her beautiful family. She told me her life story and testimony. She talked about how she wanted her kids to grow up proud of her. I was totally swept away with her words, outlook and positive nature. I just forgot she was dying and everyday I hoped she got less sick because I didn't want her to leave. Since Robin passed away I have cared for other palliative patients and still been just as taken with them and just as crushed when they took their last breaths.

Then just this week another patient of mine died of cancer. I'll call her 'M'. She was in her 80s but that was besides the point. It was only her and her husband. They had no kids or close relatives. A few friendly neighbours but they lived for each other. For the last 60 years it had been just them. Over the two weeks I cared for her I learnt about her husbands proposal in a tree house, her three devastating miscarriages and how they have always dreamed of living by the seaside. The sicker she got the more I feared about her husband being alone. I just hated the thought of him living without her. I know it must have been a million times worse for them but one day last week I asked her how he would cope. And her answer blew me away.

"He'll just have to start a new story"

She meant that he would have to start a new chapter in his life. She explained that just because she wouldn't make it to the summer didn't mean that his life ended too. As heartbreaking as it was for them she knew he would carry on eventually. And then she asked me how I felt...about her dying. I'll admit I was a little out of my comfort zone. I know how to nurse a palliative person but to say out loud that I don't like it, that I find it sad and unfair and cruel was a little hard. But then I said that I always find it a privilege because it's in cases like hers that I feel I really get to know someone. I get to know their life, families and their beliefs. It isn't like a surgical patient that stays in for a couple of days and then goes home...alive. The best bit is learning about their story and really...I mean really getting to know them. I had the best conversation with her this week and I learnt this, as silly as it seems and as obvious it takes someone to know.

When I meet a patient I don't just meet a person. I am introduced to someone who has a thousand stories to tell. Every single normal person has an awesome story to tell. Just like 'M' did in telling me about how her husband proposed to her in a tree house whilst they had a picnic because it was raining outside in the field. We may all think that we're boring and lead unremarkable lives.

But we don't.

Yes we may not be famous, win massive awards or get ourselves known in the Guiness book of records. But the honest truth is we all do something that is incredible in our lives, we all do something worthy to other people and something we should be really proud of. I think a lot of us forget that. I know I do. One of the things 'M' said was that ordinary people don't celebrate themselves enough. Teachers don't celebrate the fact that they stimulate peoples mind to learn, explore and help them find out what they want to become in life. Healthcare workers don't celebrate that their equipped to save lives. Accountants don't celebrate that they can get people out of financial ruin. Parents don't celebrate enough that they do the best they can for their kids. The list could go on and on and on....

Yesterday 'M's husband came to collect her death certificate. He looked bereft. You could tell he was utterly lost without her and the nursing teams heart broke even more. But 'M' did leave him one last message on a note stashed away in her glasses case.

'Thank you for being the story of my life. Now carry on your story as you still have one to tell.'

It's people like 'M' that fascinate me. She's been on my mind so much that I have brought tears home. It's people like her who have left me thinking, even though they have gone. I miss her. I wish I knew her throughout all her life, and not just at the end so I could have heard many more of her thousand stories.

We all have a story. What's yours?

4 comments: said...

Powerful words.

Powerful people.

Powerful stories.

Katie said...

That is one of the most interesting parts of my second job, teaching high school equivalency test-prep. How did the person find themselves in that position? Some of the stories have broken my heart. However, their victories are just as powerful. Jobs dealing with the public can be difficult, but they can also be so rewarding.

Steph{anie} said...

Becca, we as nurses have the incredible responsibility of walking alongside those who are facing their last moments on Earth. It warms my heart knowing that you accept that role with a caring and compassionate demeanor :)

You are right; we all have stories to tell. I hope and pray that I am living my story to the fullest and sharing it with as many people as I can, because I know my chances to do so are limited.

Callie Nicole said...

Oh my, this story made me cry. She sounds like she was an amazing lady. Thanks for sharing this, Becca.

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