Wearing a Black Cape

“Concentrate the mind on the present moment” – Buddha

I have some happy stories to share, but right now I am too drained to tell them to you.

I worked 11pm-7am on Wednesday and one of my patient’s died.  I went home and had a brief sleep and went back to work 3pm-11pm yesterday and two of my patients died within ten minutes of each other.

As I was walking by one of the other nurses smiled and asked if I was wearing my black cape.

It seems that I am at the moment.  It’s funny how when you are a nurse you can go months without a death and then all of the sudden it seems you have the touch of death.

You begin to look over your shoulder to adjust your cape.

It’s painful to have to share with families that they’ve lost their loved one, call the Life Center, speak with the funeral home, collaborate with clergy, & sometimes review records with the coroner.  It may not always seem like it at the time, but when I come home I reflect and decompress.  That is when it weighs on me.  It is the witnessing of other human suffering that pulls at me.  Defense mechanisms like sarcasm, cynicism, gallows humor, and walls don’t block it.

In one of my other rooms yesterday I had a patient with pancreatic cancer.  She will be going home from the inpatient unit today because her symptoms are now manageable at home.   Her face was cheerful and bright and her smile lifted me.  Sometimes I think it is hard after a death to put on my game face and walk into the next room without revealing what I am feeling.  Other times I think I am glad I have my other patients to share a moment with because they help me get through.

In my other room I was caring for a demented patient in for a respite stay.  He wasn’t oriented to place or time.  He was listening to some lively music as I helped him eat some strawberry ice cream.  I asked him who we were listening to and without pausing to think he smiled and replied, “That’s Don Reno and Red Smiley.”    I marveled at how his mind remembers some things and forgets others.

Acting like these Buddhist’s bells, my other patients help me to be mindful and pay attention to the now.  Interacting with them helps me focus.

I am scheduled this evening for 3pm-11pm.

I think I will wear my white jacket today.


Feature photo by Igor Ovsyannykov

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