I want to write about my night at work. It’s off topic, but profound…for me at least.
I’m currently working as a caregiver in a long term care facility; a nursing home. I work on the rehab wing. The clients on my wing are not considered “residents” because the purpose of their stay is to rehab from acute illnesses and or procedures. It is expected that they will either get better and go home, move to the long term care wings or die. This week, one of my guys passed away the morning after my shift. The night before his celestial discharge, I sat with him and his grown daughter while she read scripture with tears in her eyes and a sob caught in her throat. She had been ill for a week and had stayed away. She didn’t want to get him sick. He was already so sick. 24 hours of antibiotics gave her the confidence to sit by his bedside. I was caring for someone across the hall when I heard her muffled sobbing and came to offer her comfort and a tissue. She asked me if he could hear her. If there was any point in reading aloud to him. I told her that hearing was the last sense to leave us as we die. I told her that he knew she was there. He opened an eye. The morphine pump kept him heavily sedated. His pain had been unbearable. I told him I was there and that I loved him. I’ve only worked in this facility for a month, but this man had been one of my favorite guys. He had fought a noble fight with his daughters by his side. When I told him I loved him, I meant it. I loved those woman too. She worried that she wouldn’t be there when he passed. I tried to reassure her saying that we know the signs and would make sure to call her. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m still learning what I should and shouldn’t say. She left that night thinking we would call her in time. I sat with him after she had gone. I did his HS (hour of sleep) cares. I repositioned him, trying to make him as comfortable as I could in the hospital bed. I sang to him while I worked. I usually do. My guys usually like it when I sing. I sing old gospel tunes. That night I sang him wayfaring stranger and amazing grace (to the tune of House of the Rising Sun). He had that one cataract-blue eye open while I worked and sang. I wasn’t thinking this would be the last time would care for him.
When I came to work the next day (the day before yesterday) there was a neat black line through his name on the census list. I knew he was gone. I sought out the nurse from day shift and asked if the family had been with him when he died. No. He died alone in his sleep. I had to hide in the bathroom. I couldn’t help but replay the conversation with his daughter. “We will call you”. His belonging were still in the room. No one came to collect them on my shift.
Today his things were gone. No trace of him remained in the room he had occupied for the last month. I went on with my shift. We were busy tonight. Halfway through the night, the charge nurse opened the door to the kitchen where I was making tea for one of my clients. She said there was someone here to see me. I turned, confused, wondering who on earth would come see me at work. My guys daughter was standing there with a huge smile on her face. I walked through the door and put my arms around her. She was glowing. Like positively glowing. Her eyes were clear and bright. She looked like the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders and she was radiant. She told me that she had to come and see me. She said that she wanted me to know how much it meant to her family to have me care for her dad.
I can’t tell you how that made me feel. My heart swelled. This is why I do what I do. This is why I’ve been working so hard to become an RN. Not for the kudos. Not for the recognition. I do it because I want to serve people. I want to care for, to connect with, to comfort, and to heal people. I do it because sickness makes us feel vulnerable. It’s scary when our bodies fail us. When our fates are in the hands of strangers. When we are out of control. If I can ease a fear, or just allow someone to be raw, then I am doing my hearts work. It’s not easy. The work is hard on my body and my mind. People yell at me. Family members lash out. And lifting, rolling, dressing, undressing, massaging, combing, wiping, powdering, feeding…it’s hard on my back. But I go home every night knowing that I’ve done something worthwhile.
I’m sitting here with a tasty IPA and a roll-your-own, exhausted from my night; From my week. I can’t shake the warm fuzzy from earlier. I’m not going to try.