I came home from work today with a deep ache in my heart. Even now, if I put a hand over my chest, it feels warm and it pulsates with a rhythm that is irregular and catches in my throat. It is the sensation of sorrow and impotence in a world where there is a bounty of pain that I cannot fix, even when I pray strongly that it not be so.
Sometimes there are patients who are probably not going to have easy deaths, no matter what we do. They carry the burden of unspeakable dark stories and their lives are tragic and unimaginable. Some people have no one to care for them – no one. They have sores and wounds on their body and there is little food, and no one to cook what little they have. They are never touched by soft, loving hands. They do not have people who call or are concerned. They live alone in deplorable conditions and they are full of despair, and… they are dying.
We do everything we can. When one of us from hospice walks through their door, there is a moment of time when they get to experience unconditional love and kindness from people who treat them with respect and dignity; who do not judge them; who are not disgusted by them; who touch them and hold them. Our bath aides wash and shave them and paint their nails red and massage their aching bodies. Our social workers pull out the stops to bring all social and financial resources to bear. They bring in help. They counsel families. The chaplains sit at the bedsides bearing witness to their spiritual pain, meeting their hearts wherever they may be. As nurses, we do everything we can to ease their pain and bring them physical and emotional comfort. And yet…some days… like today, it’s not enough. Some things just can’t be fixed or mended or eased, and it breaks my heart.
As I sat in my chair tonight listening to the soft rain outside, I found relief by watching sappy you tube videos. Yep, I confess. That’s what works for me. You know the kind. Tonight on the news: The mother who was told her baby was born dead at birth, and she asked to hold him, and her instincts to cuddle and kiss him kicked in, and as she held him next to her naked, warm body, he began to slowly wiggle, then open his eyes, and then began to suck on her finger. I dissolved into tears and began sobbing at the miracle of it all. The young woman on Britain’s Got Talent who was painfully shy and then sang her heart out in a voice as pure as an angel and the judges dissolved into puddles. Animal and baby videos, stories of people who place themselves in peril to save the lives of others; it doesn’t take much. I love them all. Why? Because they make me cry. That’s it. These totally sappy videos open my heart and I get to blubber my eyes out. Then, after a while, I feel better.
I admit it’s not for everyone. I have a colleague who goes surfing every day after work. He lets the cold ocean pound his body as he rides the swells until dark. Whatever it takes. Each of us finds what works. Then we come back the next day, and the next and the next—hearts open and sleeves rolled up.