The other day I was driving home, thinking about how we are given more signs it seems right after our loved one pass, but as the time goes on, you seem to be given less and less. It make sense, when you first lose a child or a spouse or a parent you cannot even believe it is your new reality. Honestly if I hear “new normal” one more time I might gag.
I have been contemplating my career during these Covid times, I decided I wanted to go back to school to get my Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner degree a few months ago, and I have been wading through the grueling admission process and trying to talk my husband into believing it’s a good idea, (not a goal I have achieved yet), ever since. Since I was taken out of the role of Charge nurse or Head nurse for putting in missed breaks all at one time for a year, when I learned from my union a break isn’t a break if you are eating your lunch on the toilet with the desk phone, I have been re-evaluating my career life choices.
For eight years I was used to the chaos of the role, and I found myself looking to find my new work identity. Lately, I found myself really disliking my limited time with patients and limited interactions with other employees since now I was in the operating room every day with my patient asleep for the most part. The only communication you have with your patients awake, is about five minutes of their time before surgery and about five minutes after they have opened their eyes as a surgical nurse. Not to say the job isn’t interesting or important, (but to be honest, there are days it doesn’t feel either).
There are some days your five minutes are cut even shorter, like when your nurse checking in the patient hasn’t had a chance to check the patient in earlier, so as a surgical nurse you might listen in, ask three to five questions and leave getting a report from the other nurse when he/she is finished.
I was having one of those days. We were moving ahead of schedule, faster than the check in process could keep up. I popped my head in to see if I could introduce myself and the other nurse let me jump in. I asked my few safety questions and before I was about to leave and looked down at her hand and saw a large glass ring.
The ring was very unusual, it looked like blown glass, colorful and smooth, slightly large for a ring. Besides her hospital gown, that was all she was wearing. I said, “Oh, I see you still have a ring on.” She said, “the ring is very important to me, I never take it off.” I noticed it was glass, so I wasn’t worried about it being metal and interfering with anything. I said, “well your hand can swell during surgery and I also would hate for it to get lost.” I looked at her face and she had tears in her eyes that were about to spill over. It is not uncommon for patients to be anxious before surgery, but this patient had not showed any signs of anxiety earlier, she had no history of mental health issues listed or that were reported to me. I waited a few heartbeats for her to explain.
She said, “this ring was my twin sister’s ring. My identical twin sister. She died, and you see I never take it off because I feel like I am bringing her with me”. I immediately felt a lump in my throat form and I quickly said, “your surgery is only twenty minutes long, and we are working nowhere near your hand, we can tape your ring, so it doesn’t move or fall off.” Most people that know me at work, know I am a stickler for the rules, there are exceptions, of course, but I like to follow them and I am constantly trying to keep up with the policies as they ebb and flow.
She was so grateful, the tears now threatening to fall. She said without prodding, and to be honest I felt the words coming before they tumbled out of her mouth, “it was suicide.”I was thankful no one was standing near me, I felt my own eyes well up. I held her hand with the ring. “I lost my own daughter,” I said, “the same way.” She looked into my eyes and felt the common bond between us that no words can describe. I reached over with her other hand to hold mine. She told me how losing her twin had been like loosing half of herself as she imagined losing a child might be. She then asked me if I knew any good grief therapists. She was still struggling she said. Again somehow knowing she lived near me, I asked, “what city do you live in?” and she answered a city near mine. I told her I was going to get her room ready but I would give her some information about local groups. Before I ran off, she told me how we were meant to meet.
In the operating room I heard the surgeon mention to his resident how our patient had gone through the tragedy of her sisters suicide. I wondered how this one surgeon didn’t know my story, I had thought they all did. As the years go on though, I realize people forget, and new surgeons come and people tend to say things at work or in life around me now they don’t realize still makes me internally cringe. It seems so often people say things like, “I would ki** myself if that happened to me, or just sh**t me in the head why don’t you.” These dumb idioms or whatever they are, make the minority of us grief-walkers just wring our hands and clench our jaw while walking away.
After surgery, I usually only have a couple minutes to report off to the recovery nurse and go see my next patient. This just happened to be my last case of the day and we were done early. I stood next to her ask she became fully awake. I told her everything went well and I had put the info for her in her bag. I noticed her ring was off and I asked, “where is your ring?” I had a moment of panic as I looked down at her blankets. She said, “it was uncomfortable taped and I didn’t want to lose it, besides I know my sister was with me because of you and I think my sister and your daughter brought us together.” For the second time that day, I felt a lump in my throat. She talked a little more to me, and at one point I asked her what year her sister passed. Again somehow I knew we would have another common bond as she said 2018. I agreed with her as I told her to take care while , I was meant to be her nurse today. It doesn’t matter if I am head nurse or not, maybe we are used where we are at in life, and though I hope to have a different path in my career in the future, hopefully as a PMHNP, for now I am ok where I am at.