Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Unflappable Ones

Monday was National Nurse's Day -- did you know that? If I could give all the nurses in my life a hug and a 25% raise and maybe a gift certificate for a massage, too, I would do all that and still feel thoroughly indebted to them and unable to express my complete gratitude. Seriously, these women (and men, mine just happen to all be women) are spectacular people.

My nurses gave me my "chemo education" at the start of all this, guided me through what to expect and how to manage side effects, threw confetti when I finished my first round of chemo, called with the spectacular news that my scan was clean that December, and cried with me when I came back to start my second round of chemo just seven months later. They do all this for every patient.

And how many others out their could be on their feet 90% of the day and still smile through it? (Hint: these people are also underpaid.)

At this point, my nurses and I joke that my infusion time is my time to unwind. I get to kick my feet up in the recliner and catch up with these women who are now my friends. We talk about our toddlers' sleep habits and our parents' illnesses. We only get a few minutes while they're setting up my IV bags or drawing blood from my port to test my cell counts, and then again when my medicine bags are empty and ready for swapping out. But those minutes have added up over the last twenty months, and I start to miss these women and our interactions toward the end of each three-week cycle.

If I ever get to stop having these infusions, I'm going to have to start inviting their kids over for playdates, just to be able to visit with these women who've become so important to me.

Last week, my port wasn't cooperating and my nurse was having trouble getting any blood out, so we had a few extra minutes to chat. Meantime, she's flushing my port, attempting to draw blood, unwrapping another vial of saline to flush my port again, asking me to hold my breath in hopes that the blood will start flowing, and joking about needing to Drano it. She's also telling me about a recent trip to visit her new nephew and how her three-year-old son did with his cousins. And I'm just sitting there in amazement that none of what's going on with my port is seeming to derail her a bit.

"This port is making me sweat, here," she laughed, just as I was thinking she was completely unflappable. For the record, I didn't see any sweat.

Eventually, my port cooperated, she got the blood she needed, and I got my medicine. Then she quickly moved on to an older man who was complaining of extreme nausea, and then to a woman just a few years older than me who was asking for tips managing side effects.

I try not to eavesdrop too much. While we're all there for the same basic reason, all of our issues and experiences and needs are widely varied. But I hear enough to know these nurses are dealing with a whole slew of crap. And I've been going there long enough to know they do their jobs cheerfully, expertly, and compassionately, no matter how sick the patient, how many complaints we have, how finicky our ports are, or how many times our cancer rears its ugly head. Nurses are a special breed, to be sure, but oncology nurses have to be some of the kindest souls I've ever known.

To all the nurses in my life, thank you for all you do -- for me, and for so many others -- and for coming back to do it again day in and day out. You are some remarkable people, and I hope you know it.

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