Dealing with Death

After my husband died, I went into nursing.

Seems like an odd choice of careers – after spending 159 days watching my husband get better, get sicker, get better, get sicker and finally die – that I would choose a profession that would force me to watch people get better, get sicker and die.

I’m a Licensed Practical Nurse now. I work with people who are mostly stable. My scope of practice says that I deal with patients who have a stable, predictable state of health.

Except when I’m a part of a code team.  The code team deals with trauma, cardiac arrest and other life threatening situations.

The hospital I work at allows LPN’s to do 1 of 2 jobs on the code team: compressions or record.

In order to record, you must have taken a course – which I have not – so I frequently am the compressions person. (Or code white – but that’s a different role)

At 0625 this morning, Code Blue was called. ETA 5 mins or something like that.  That means – 3 of us from the floor are running to the ER prepared to try to save someone’s life. And we ran. And heard the 2nd call – Mat (something I didn’t hear) Stat.

On the elevator, waiting to go to the 1st floor, we talked – was the Mat call related to the Code Blue? We hoped not.

We were wrong.

This was my first code where I was responsible for compressions.  My first code where I was not a student, or a new grad or anything but JUST ANOTHER TEAM MEMBER.

And my job was as important as the others. I was part of the team.

The report we were given when we got to the ER?  14 day old baby in cardiac arrest.

W. T. Everloving F?

My brain raced – do I remember how to do compressions on an infant? I didn’t get to do the NRP – will I be enough? Should I excuse myself? Could I handle this? Tears were welling up in my eyes and the baby wasn’t even there yet. How can I possibly be an effective nurse, an effective member of the team when I can’t control my emotions?

And then they arrived. I watched the EMT perform compressions. I took several breaths.  Waited until they were done report before tapping him on the shoulder and letting him know I could take over.

And then I did.

And my world narrowed to just what I was doing.  Trying to focus on the tiny human in front of me, willing her to breathe on her own, her heart to beat on its own. Listening and watching the RN’s around me do their job with amazing precision and execution.  Watching the doctor and the nurses move together like a well orchestrated team.

And I was doing my part.  Ignoring the cries and heartbreak of the parents behind me, beside me, in front of me. Because the moment I allowed them to penetrate my consciousness – my emotions came back.

We worked on that baby for 43 minutes.

43 minutes we kept going – hoping beyond hope that we weren’t too late.

43 minutes.

That beautiful little girl did not get to see her 15th day. She won’t get to see her 1st birthday, her 16th, have kids, get married, break hearts. She won’t get to learn to crawl, walk or talk.

It’s moments like this – that I question my ability to be a nurse.  Moment’s like this that I wonder if I have the emotional fortitude – especially given my own trauma and grief – to carry on and support the families of those who die.

I walked out of the ER, down the corridor and was overcome with big ugly cries at the elevator.  Grieving for a life cut short.

I got to the top of the elevator, grabbed my stuff (end of shift and all) and got to the staff entrance to the parking lot and just outside, my knees buckled… more big ugly cries. Grieving with the parents who have to face life without their child.

In my car – crying on my way home – pull into my driveway and bawl. Grieving for myself having spent about 1/2 those 43 minutes hoping for a miracle.

I will cry over this little girl – who’s name I never got – for a while. It will make me a better nurse, better caregiver. I will learn the things I want to learn and do and be because we learn from the mistakes we make, the situations we experience and the things we do in nursing.  We don’t learn from books -we learn from experiences.

I wonder.  Did Mark’s nurses cry with me when they got off shift?  Did they grieve? I like to think so. They’re who inspired me to become a nurse – and I can’t imagine they were not affected by what happened.

I get it now though. I remember asking at the beginning – how do you separate feelings from work?

You just do.  You stuff it into a box, and let it out when you’re in a safe place and can feel.

Because when you walk away from the tiny human who doesn’t get to go home… you still have a job to do – and the rest of your patients need you.

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The Damned Parking Spot… and other triggers…

I pulled into the parking lot at the pizza place. I had just under 20 mins to get my pizza and get back to work – half hour break does not give me much time to clear my head.

I looked down at the parking space. It had one of those concrete barriers in front of the store-front protecting the walkway and the pizza store.

I could faintly read the letters “Video Update Parking Only”

Oh fuck I gotta tell Mark this….

Oh wait.  I can’t.

Sadness washed over me.  Not the deep, broken, painful grief storm that hits me when a trigger gets me, but the sadness of “oh yeah… that’s gone” and the reminder that for a moment, I forgot and I wanted to tell him something.

Something he’d think was funny.  Something he could relate to but no one else in my life could.

A Video Update store I’d never been to but I knew where it was now. It was on the cusp of his territory as District Manager.  He managed from Williams Lake to Prince Rupert and I’d never been to the Williams Lake store.

And I saw it… the faint markings of the remnants of a business that died out in 2010… well actually before that. 2010 was when the company that bought out Video Update finally went bankrupt.

It was the faint markings of a life gone by.

I let the sadness wash over me, then I picked up my pizza and headed back to work.

At work, I was dressing the wound of a patient who was from my home town. We talked about the places we knew. We talked about how much it changed. We talked about how it was not our home anymore.

And then he started talking about his medical history.  About how he used to be diabetic but he wasn’t.  How he had had a pancreas transplant. How this had happened at Vancouver General Hospital 20 years ago.

And all I could think about was how 6 year ago, I was told it wasn’t a possibility. That maybe somewhere, some one had done it, but it wasn’t really possible.

And in the middle of wound care, my most favourite thing in the world to do in nursing…

I fell apart and had to leave the room.

I lost my mind and started crying.

Because 6 years ago I was told that it wasn’t possible and what if it had been and it would have saved his life?

It’s all a moot point now.  But at that moment, on that day, my heart broke again.

And instead of the wave of sadness like at the pizza joint… I was hit with the deep ugly sobs that always result in me looking like I’ve smoked a lot of pot.  Bloodshot eyes and blotchy face and cannot hide that from anyone.

I’m happy for the gentleman who is living his best happiest.

Life is full of triggers.  Some will be a gentle reminder….  some will be a brick wall I run into full force.

I’m grateful that I loved well enough to still grieve that hard.

Sucker For Punishment

I read the Facebook and blog posts of many of my fellow widda’s.

They all have something in common that I don’t share with them:  they avoid the triggers.

I don’t think they go out of their way to avoid them, more of a matter of if they know a movie will make them cry, they’ll choose a different movie or wait until they’re alone to watch it.

I’m different.  I deliberately, on occasion, put myself in situations where I know I’ll be triggered.

I think I do it for two reasons:

  1. I want to see how much that particular thing still affects me – am I still grieving as hard? Am I sensitized yet? Am I ready to let go of that sadness yet?
  2. I truly believe that if I allow myself to FEEL, then I won’t be caught unawares, and I wont’ be stuck in a situation where I’m bawling because I thought I was OK.

And it’s interesting how it’s evolved.

Take Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt 2 for instance.  I blogged about this back in 2012, about 5 1/2 months after Mark died.

The theme song gets me. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. It was sent to me by a friend shortly after Mark died.  He said it reminded him of me and Mark.  So this song is played at the end of the movie.  It’s on my iPod. I listen to it a lot.  When I’m in my car, driving, unless it’s a trigger day or something that hits me… I can listen to the song and enjoy it for what it is.

If I watch Breaking Dawn Pt 2, the song makes me bawl. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

So today, I’m hanging out, and Twilight comes on.  I decide..what the hell. Haven’t seen it in a few months, lets try this again. Cue happy family, cue disgruntled vampire who goes to the mean vampires to make a complaint, cue epic fight between mean vampires and good vampires, cue happy ending.

Cue theme song… and I start bawling.

I could feel it building. I could feel it coming.

The question became… let it build, let it out and cry?  Or shut it down and change the channel.

Well.. I don’t know how bad it will be.  So lets go through the process.

And here I am.  Hiding in my bedroom while my youngest son watches my grandson while I cry and listen to that damn song again.

Clearly I am not ready to watch Twilight: Breaking Dawn pt 2 without tears.  Even after 4 1/2 years, I still break down and bawl. It is one of the things that will make me cry.

I still miss him.  So very much.  Despite how happy I am. Despite how excited I am for my future.  There are days when I just want to curl up on my bed… and submerge myself in the “fuck I miss him” feelings that overwhelm me. Because they’re always there.

I miss you Mark.

How are You Feeling?

Four years ago I wrote this post about how I was feeling, 2 days before Christmas, 6 months post-loss.

Yesterday, when the post popped up in my “On This Day” memories feed… I looked at it and thought how drastically my life has changed in the past four years.

Four years ago I was devastated, and trying to put on a “happy” face for my children.

Three years ago I was in a new relationship… it was our first (and only) together, and we had been fighting and it was MISERABLE.

Tree Decorating night  2013

Two years ago my boys and I made our Christmas together. We created happy-ish memories.

christmas-tree

Last year, I was in Edmonton, welcoming in a new life.  I was witness to my grandson’s birth, spent a Christmas with all my children (although missing one grandchild), and while there was some misery/crappy bits about it, being able to be there for my daughter and enjoy the time made it incredibly awesome.

This year?  This year I’m engaged. I have two days, one of which I’m spending with my lovely little grandson, to complete Christmas crafts, do my Christmas baking, finish decorating the tree (and house if I want to go there), and get things cleaned before my future in-laws arrive. There is SO much joy in my life right now.

It’s amazing how much life can change.

And yet… there’s still part of me that misses… that’s teary… that wants to succumb to the sadness.  I won’t.  Not this year.  But I may take a few minutes… just on my own. To remember.

The First…

There’s not too many firsts left after 4 years gone.

This past weekend was two firsts.

The first wedding I’ve attended since he died.

The first “Smith” family gathering since he died.

This was the wedding of his nephew. It’s hard to believe that he’s missing out on so much.

Kids growing up, getting married, having kids…

The ceremony was beautiful.  The bride and groom were gorgeous. The setting was amazing…

And all throughout, there was a golden thread of sadness in my heart. What he’s missing out on.

I didn’t bring my Sexxy Chef with me.  I had RSVP’d before he was on the scene, didn’t think that was the best place to introduce him and ultimately, I needed to go through the wedding without Mark on my own.

I spent a lot of time with my grandson, dancing with him while he fell asleep. He gave me an excuse to be kind of anti-social and off on my own. He allowed me to just be… to feel and allow the emotions to wash over me without affecting anyone else’s good time.

It was a day of joy.  They don’t get the sorrow.  They don’t get how the sadness is always there like the sunburn that hasn’t yet healed and you go to scratch an itch and it suddenly flares up and HOLY FUCK THAT STILL HURTS.

That’s what the wedding did… it was the scratch on the burn. The joy of seeing Austin and Maddie get married scratched the pain of missing Mark.  And holy fuck does it still hurt.

Maddie and Austin

I’m so very happy for them. They are so beautifully in love, so incredibly happy. And I’m glad I was able to be there to share in their day.  I know Mark was there in spirit.

Be Grateful

I’m sure you’ve seen the meme on Facebook or wherever.

Don't Cry

I was at a derby bout this weekend.  Northern Mayhem vs Terrace.  In Terrace.

Terrace is the place where Mark and I moved a month after we got together. It’s the place he proposed to me.  Where we conceived our first… and lost it.  It’s the place we had our marriage blessed by the church we belonged to. It’s where our Andrew was conceived, and born.  It’s where we solidified our relationship and who we were as a couple. It was the start of MarkandJane.

And I was there, driving around the town, ripping off bandaids, picking at the scabs, allowing myself to bleed a little.

And then I get to the derby bout.

I had planned to ignore the last weekend and just have an amazing fucking time, learn new things and play hard.  But one of the North Stars came up to me and offered me more.

“You’re my buddy.  You and I are going to work together all night.  Last weekend was last weekend and tonight we’re going to have fun.”

I started crying. Apparently it took someone just being nice and supportive (damn you Mark for dying and taking that from me!!!) after the day of picking at the emotional scabs for the tears to finally come out.

I had to explain that this (tears and emotions) had nothing to do with this (the derby stuff that happened last week and I was ignoring it this weekend regardless of what happened)

And she said to me…

Be grateful for the town.  Be grateful for what it gave you and the memories you have because of it.

And somehow… for the first time… I’m able to see that.  I’ve seen the “Don’t cry” meme before and in my head I’m like.. DUDE.  Do you not GET how fucking PAINFUL it was to lose him? (yeah, I yelled at the meme a few times)

But grateful.  I can do grateful.

Grateful doesn’t mean I’m not sad.  Grateful doesn’t mean I don’t cry.  Grateful doesn’t mean I ignore the pain.

Grateful means that even when I’m crying, I smile because of everything we shared.

Grateful means that even when it hurts so much I can’t breathe, I still hold on to the love we shared.

Grateful means that I can look at the town here we started and smile at the memories even as they’re ripping me apart.

Grateful means that picking the scabs and ripping the bandaids means the healing can carry on… even if it leaves a scar in the end.

I can do grateful.  And I am incredibly grateful for her for saying it in those words.

SCAN0070SCAN0061

The top image is Mark and Me and Kyle and Katie at the mouth of the Shames on the Skeena River.

The bottom is Mark and Chi-wen & Simon and someone I don’t remember hiking Terrace Mountain.

 

The Flashbacks

Nursing is a profession where you get intimately acquainted with your client’s body.

You learn about the things that most people are too embarrassed to talk about.

Colonostomies. Bowels. Urination. Elimination.  Wastes.

The upside to this is I’ve watched a lot of it while Mark was in the hospital.  The downside is that every new topic that comes up results in yet another trigger.

Today was dialysis.

Sitting in a hospital waiting to find out what ICU he’d be heading to because Lions Gate didn’t have dialysis.

Watching his blood circulate when he was on dialysis.

Off dialysis.  Back on dialysis. Off again.

Wondering if he’d have permanent kidney damage.

So many triggers.

So many flashbacks.

Good thing is I’m going to get all out of the way before I see an actual patient.  Bad thing is… I’m having them.

Memory is fine.  Recall is shot.  Until I step into class and something triggers me.