Monday, May 19, 2008

Making beauty, finding joy

If you are averse to touching stories about saints dressed up as normal people, just click away from this page now.

Today was Little Warrior's last day of radiation. (KnockWoodPleaseGodEtc.) I will not miss getting up at 5:45 am (to leave by 6:10). I will not miss the morning traffic. I will not miss watching LW go limp as the propofol hits her and knocks her out. I will not miss my mind worrying about what the late-effects of the radiation might be.

But I'll miss the people.

In the world of pediatric oncology, more often than not, the person is pretty special. Just goes with the territory. I imagine it's the ultimate weed-out profession. Kids aren't very tolerant to unfriendly doctors and nurses. With little exception, it seems like the "best of the best" wind up working in the oncology clinic or on the cancer floor of the hospital.

But even among these best of the best, you can still be surprised as it goes another level. Like the nurses today, who brought cupcakes and gifts to celebrate LW's last radiation + 3rd birthday (next Saturday).

Two folks in particular I want to tell you about. One was our nurse, HummingbirdNurse. She's little, has bright eyes, and tons of energy. She was also an amazing teacher, and I'm not talking about her coaching me in flushing LW's port.

We were without her for one day. It came out that the reason was because it was the 7th anniversary of her husband's death, and she would be at the cemetery.

On the day she returned, I asked her if she found it peaceful. Oh yes, said she. And then we got into one of those deep conversations that just somehow happens with someone you don't really know, but would probably be friends with, if you were in different circumstances. She told me about how after he died, she couldn't sleep ... unless she went to the cemetery. There, she would have incredibly restful sleeps. She would wake with the groundskeepers gently shaking her awake. One time, she woke to find a procession driving by her, all of them gawking. We both enjoyed laughing about that.

Getting serious again -- "I knew he wasn't there," she said. "When he died, I felt him leave me. But ... it was his marker. And I felt better."

She left me with much more, including a question that is so spot-on in some situations, I know I will be using it. Especially on myself. It is: "How is your soul?"

The other is LW's anesthesiologist. He is 78 years old. He tried retirement, but came back. He works part-time, doing the anesthesia for kids who are too young and/or too wiggly to lay still for radiation.

He is gruff and grandfatherly -- not surprising, since he has both grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Propofol comes in little glass bottles. He has, HummingbirdNurse confided, a special routine for cleaning and sterilizing the bottles, soaping and rinsing, running them in the sterilizing oven. Then he takes them home, and he and his wife glue them together with glass glue, stuff them with tinsel and colored lights, back them with green felt and voila ... a really amazing Christmas tree, that he gives to the young patients at Christmas time. "It makes a good night light, too," he muttered to me. (We wound up with one, probably aided by Hummingbird Nurse and the fact that he has a great-granddaughter just LW's age.)

Isn't that just a fabulous story? Rather than turning away from the emotional pain of working with itty bitty cancer patients, he takes the bottles their anesthesia comes in and makes something beautiful. Not that he is detached from the pain of the situation. "You see how he hurried out," grinned HummingbirdNurse, after I impetuously hugged him for the tree. And he once -- again, gruffly -- said in response to me admitting that I'm a crier (after he praised me for not being nervous around LW), "Well, these kids. Sometimes I feel like crying."

And then he hurried out of the room.


Earthbound Spirit said...

Thanks for the stories of medical staff. I saw how involved they were with LW on the video over at Love in Action. When I was doing CPE I learned that good nurses are on the front line of delivering pastoral care - and chaplains ignore them at their peril. And the oncology nurses (where I was) all had their own cancerworld stories, which made them extra careful and kind.

Anna Banana said...

Hey, worried about you. Anything going on or are you getting well deserved rest?