Letters From Home

The Angels of the Battlefield by William Ludwell Sheppard     ushistory.org

The Angels of the Battlefield by William Ludwell Sheppard ushistory.org

“Dear Ganfanther,

You are so poor.  Why are you so poor?  Wade it on the peepers.  Lys to the dodders.

Love,

Your Granddaughter”

This was the letter hanging on the wall of one of my patients I cared for ten years ago.  It took me and another nurse a good hour to decipher this child’s prose. (Granted, there was a bit more to this letter then I can remember.)  I’m not sure why, but we laughed so hard at this heartfelt attempt of one granddaughters letter to her sick grandfather.

In most of our critically ill patient rooms, family would feel the need to post letters and pictures and transform what once was a sterile sick-bed, into a familiar family album.  Those bedside images have stuck with me throughout my career as memories of people I have cared for and most who didn’t make it.

These letters and pictures were nothing more than a simple gesture of hope to remind the person lying dormant in that bed that they had something to wake up for, get better for, and come home to.

A personal touch in such an impersonal place can go a long way; not just for the patient, but for everyone who enters the room and is boldly reminded that Mr. Jones is not just the guy in room 203, but he’s a grandfather with a granddaughter at home who’s worried about him.  It’s our job to keep that alive, even if we can’t keep him alive.

Translation to letter above:

Dear Grandfather,

You are so sick.  Why are you so sick?  Write it on the paper.  Listen to the doctors.

Expiration Date; The Souring Aspects of Growing Old

courtesy of Asli Kutluay

Florence Nightingale courtesy of Asli Kutluay aslikutluay.com

Did you ever think you’d get to a point in your life when what you have to say doesn’t matter to anyone, anymore?   Maybe you’re already there, or know someone who is.  It’s the sad side to aging when your opinion expires, and the person on the other end of your flapping gums finds you about as relevant as spoiled milk.

I used to think that old people held such great wisdom and knowledge from all the years spent prior on this planet.  I believed in looking up to your elders, anxiously awaiting some bone of advice to nibble on and regurgitate into my own life.

But as I get older, I’m realizing that this just isn’t true.  Not all old people impart wisdom.  But for the many that do, are we listening?

As a nurse of twenty plus years, the one piece of elderly advice I have heard time and again is, “Don’t get old!”  I used to laugh at this comment and brush it aside, but at forty-one, I’m kind of starting to fear this bit of Methuselahian advice.  The physical aspects of aging are scary enough without the thought of gradually being reduced to nothing more than an amorphous cluster of denture cream, depends, and dementia.

We need to respect our youthfully challenged population, for one day we will step into their orthopedics, and it will be our coke rimmed spectacle reflection staring back at us in the mirror.

There’s usually a lesson in a story, even if you’ve heard it a thousand times.  So instead of rolling your eyes and planning your escape route, sit down, pour a cup of coffee, and listen to that old codger, because that might just be the lesson we’re all missing.

I don’t want to expire before my time.  I want to age like fine wine and have that cork popped open, instead of jammed into my doddering old pie hole.  We’re all gonna get there someday…

Just ‘Don’t get old” along the way!

Dead Bodies

Night Nurse Warner Brothers

Night Nurse Warner Brothers

I don’t think you can ever prepare someone for the sight of a real dead body.  I say real because the kind of dead body you see at a funeral home, with all the makeup, hair, jewelry, and fancy clothing looks nothing like a freshly dead corpse.

So, when I encountered my first dead body, I realized that not even nursing school had prepared me.  All that C.P.R. (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) training on a healthy looking dummy became a foggy memory when I was called to the bedside of my first dead patient.

She was a lovely  woman who had undergone hip surgery earlier that day. Other than a little indigestion, she had no complaints.  I set her up for dinner thinking that would help soothe her stomach, then went to the nurses station to chart.  Sometime later, her grandchildren came to the desk to tell me their grandmother ‘didn’t look right’, and could I come down and check on her.

Obviously they too had never seen a real dead body.

I walked down the hall to the last room on the right, entered, and to my horror I realized indeed, she was dead!  I panicked.  I ran out of the room, and back up the hall to find the R.N. I was working with (I was an L.P.N. at the time and less senior.  I was also seventeen years old, and just out of school.)  When I finally found her, the R.N. refused to leave her patient to come and help me.

“What the fuck?!!”

I ran to the next hallway, saw another R.N. I was friends with, grabbed her by the hand and said, “Run!” Hand in hand we ran back to the room, confirmed the patient was dead and called a code blue.  Unfortunately my patient died, and I went home and cried myself to sleep that night.

Many years have passed, and I’ve since become an old hand with dead bodies; I’m more shocked looking at dolled up cadavers in caskets, than bodies of the terminally ill.  But at some point in life we will all have to come face to face with a dead body and nothing can really prepare us for that moment.

We just have to experience that for ourselves.