A few weeks ago the nurse light went off in our patient bathroom. I looked over at my coworker Amy and said, "Didn't 'our coworker' just go in there?"
"I think so," she answered as we both walked to the bathroom and stopped for a moment hoping he would hit the "cancel" button. When the bell continued to ding I tentatively tapped on the door.
"Yes?" came an impatient voice.
"Are you okay?"
"Uh. Yeeees. I'll be out in a minute."
"Well you pulled the call light cord. Could you cancel it please?"
And he came out looking quite sheepish. And of course we were all laughing. It turns out he was looking at the cord because it appeared to be made of plastic, but was actually a shiny fabric...Well, the cord is quite sensitive, and he had inadvertently activated the call system.
Amy jokingly said, "We were fighting over who had to go in there and help you if you were sprawled out on the floor."
Because, really. We do NOT want to be each others nurse.
That conversation has been rattling around in my brain, like a gnat buzzing just out of reach...
This coworker found out he had cancer a week ago Thursday. His only symptom was feeling tired and a sore throat. He finally forced himself to make an appointment with a doctor, and reported the fatigue and sore throat. After one look at his throat, the doctor said "You have cancer. We are getting you a CT scan today."
And thus began his journey.
He has squamous cell carcinoma of his tongue. Tomorrow our team will assist a doctor in placing a port for chemotherapy...So here we are: Being not only his nurse, but his scrub tech and doctor...
It was a very somber week for all of us. He was running to his oncology appointments, meeting with a surgeon and getting biopsies done between cases. I just kept thinking "there is a crisis going on here, why do we still have to work?" I admit I was a bit of a wreck.
And yet he soldiered on.
Popcorn helped me make an eggless blueberry coffee cake for him on Wednesday. He was out of K Cups for the Keurig, so he needed to borrow one of mine to enjoy with his treat, "if I'm able to drink it." Apparently hot coffee is the only thing that is really bothering him and it is related to the biopsy. He saw the cake when I walked in Thursday morning and said "you didn't." I looked at him and said in my most practical voice that refuses to cry, "Well, if you can't fix it, feed it." And he gave a wry chuckle.
That afternoon, after learning he would need both chemo and radiation to treat his cancer, I went with him to consent a patient for a biopsy of a mass...In response to the man's question he said, "Well, I won't know what it is. We will send the biopsy to the pathologist and it can be one of a few things. It could be an inflammation of the bone that has caused this mass, an infection, or it could be cancer. Your doctor will let you know what the pathologist report says."
And I was all jittery and as I thought of the total surrealism of talking to a patient about the possibility he has cancer when you yourself have just received the news that not only do you for sure have cancer, but it will require chemo and radiation...
You know, it seems as if health care people should have some sort of super suit that makes them immune to things like cancer. And while I recognize the utter ridiculousness of such a thought, that is the thought that keeps coming back to me.
As I was leaving for the weekend I tried to cheerfully wish him goodbye and "have a great weekend! You will already be asleep when I get to work on Monday."
"The doctor said I'm going to lose my hair. Do you think I should just shave it before I begin chemo?"
"Wow. I probably would. I think it would be very traumatic to lose chunks of hair." And then, although I could feel my nurse walls going up, I went over and I gave him a hug. And it was much more difficult to hug him than it ever is to hug a patient who has rough news. Because while I recognize my patients need for a hug, and I genuinely care for their pain it's not my pain. If I truly felt their pain I would be a total basket case in a matter of days...
But this man is not just a patient. He has become my friend in the last three plus years that we have worked together. I know all about his wife and kids. I know his family back ground and I know his moods. I know that when he's cranky a piece of chocolate and a tablespoon of peanut butter will pretty much fix whatever is ailing him. I know he feels he should be living in the 1950s because his world view and values are more in line with that era than modern day. He makes fun of my rapid speech and rambling conversations, and corrects my grammar until I want to tell him he is not my father, but my dad would never correct my grammar. I know that he is madly in love with his wife and when she goes out of town he is a total basket case.
In spite of our work rolls we have become more than just coworkers. We've become friends...
"You know, this is going to be a real pain. Those other people filling in for you don't understand my moods. They don't know that they need to follow my directions and just do as I say, and the world is a smoother place."
"Andi, don't cry."
"Don't worry. I won't. I suck at sadness." And we both laughed.
And that was what we both needed.
I will be praying for him, his wife and two kids.
Will you join me?