The old man settled comfortably into the padded rocker chair in the day room on my unit, where I was doing my charting for the day. He rocked back and forth, flipping through the television, the volume cranked up almost unbearably loud.
Before long, he had some visitors. A couple–another elderly man and his giggly wife, joined the patient, taking seats on either side of him.
“So, how ya’ doin in here?” the husband asked.
“Oh, you know…” the patient stammered, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. He looked around, as if contemplating if he should give the standard, safe reply.
And then, suddenly, it just burst out of him.
“I’m really depressed,” he blurted out. The words sounded almost like a challenge. “And sad. Really, really sad.” He leaned back, his nervousness betrayed by a furry of rocking.
The couple paused.
I waited, expectantly, hiding behind my computer screen.
“Oh, I see. Huh.” came the profound reply from the husband visitor.
“So, do you watch a lot of baseball in here?” visitor husband ventured.
How do we deal with the messy parts of life? The not-so-beautiful parts?
When I’m working as a nurse, I find myself getting bogged down by the sadness, the waste, the neglect and self-abuse that lands so many in the hospital. Or there are the completely random things that really get to me–the mother diagnosed with lung cancer, although she has never touched a cigarette in her life. Or my patient, a young 51-year old with a neurological disorder so rare I had to look it up, only to find out she will never recover. Instead, she will slowly become a prisoner in her own body, eventually dying of an infection her body will be too weak to fight off. Those cases are the scariest, of course, because they can happen to anyone.
I’ve always kinda been a downer Debby. For some reason, I’ve always thought about all the crappy stuff in the world, the suffering that is going on right at this very minute. I have diary entries from when I was eight that contemplate the existence of death. I know, I was a weird kid. The sad stuff gets to me, threatening to rob me of the pure joy of living.
It’s hard for me, when a typical shift as a nurse shows me so much pain, some in physical ways, and others, like an old man in a rocking chair, reaching out for kindness, in less visible ways.
I feel sometimes that I view humans as the make-up of our physical parts. To borrow from my favorite Ice-Age character, Sid the Sloth, when it comes right down to it, “Humans are disgusting.” We stink, we have more germs than we can imagine, we are hairy, we poop and pee endlessly. We have invented loads of products to counteract our grossness, but in the end, when you think about it, our days are made up of just trying to keep ourselves clean.
But then there are other things. Like when I touch the rocking patient on the shoulder and ask him how his lunch was. And he looks up at me, startled, wondering if I am really talking to him. And smiles. And cracks a joke about hospital food. And smiles again.
And then I go home.
And hold my baby girls.
And breathe in their scent.
And see the sunset blaze across our backyard.
And have my family over for a dinner that involves fresh cherries.
And smell the flowers that my husband planted.
And delight in our budding garden.
And rock Mya to sleep. (Victory!)
Yes, there are messy parts of life. But sometimes, I have to remind myself:
The beautiful parts are just as real.