On my last post, I speculated that Betty, the wife of one of my patients, Mr. G, might have been plotting to do him in. Now my friend, co-worker at the time, Jane Van De Velde, writes that Mr. G was admitted to the hospital because his hemoglobin was very low and he died there. “So it turns out Betty was blameless.”
For twenty years I thought of Betty as a scheming, conniving and murderous wife. How interesting to find out that my suspicions have been unfounded. Sorry to let this one go. But I do have another patient I believe might have had an untimely death.
I’ll tell you about him on my next post.
When you have been a nurse as long as I have there are patients who take residence in your memories and resurface frequently. They could almost be family except they have a short history in your life. What they were like before or after you knew them usually remains a mystery.
Mr. G was a cantankerous, legally blind, brittle diabetic I had taken care of in the late 80’s. His house was the worst on the block: paint peeling off the frame, rickety wooden stairs and overgrown weeds. Thankfully he lived close to the police station because I had to drive there one day when Mr. G didn’t answer the door. He was convulsing on the floor as I peered through the window. I had to beg the police to break down the basement door to enter because Mr. G often complained to me how many times they had axed into the front door and how expensive it was to repair. He frequently had hypoglycemic reactions.
Mr. G. gave himself insulin injections using low vision equipment to measure out the dose. His much younger wife worked full time, leaving him lunch, usually a sandwich, piece of fruit and a drink on the dining room table. He had confided in me that he thought she was having an affair with her boss. Having an active imagination (I’m a writer aren’t I?), I wondered if his wife was trying to kill him. Maybe the house, inside and out, was in deliberate disarray leading to a potential life-threatening accident. I don’t remember the other scenarios I entertained as I drove to and from his home.
When I left my job to move to another state, my friend, co-worker and fellow nurse practitioner, Jane Van De Velde, took over his care. He died on her watch. She recently emailed me with remembrances about him.
“But I really remember his memorial service. It was so touching, all the people who attended and spoke so highly of him. I was literally brought to tears. I got up and spoke about how wonderful it was to see another side of someone–the strong, healthy, community-involved and well-respected side. We saw him at end of life when he was so very ill and depressed and visually impaired.”
Jane adds, “There are some patients we never forget.”
I’m writing a book. I’ve been writing this book for the past five years. Longer if you count the time I worked with a friend to co-author a book of nursing tales until I knew I had to take this journey alone. Add the amount of time it took for the book to take form and we’re talking ten years. There have been many renditions. It started out as a chronological account of my nursing career. Then it morphed into a story about a particular job I had. I added more about my immediate family. My mother ambled into the book complicating my theme and opening old wounds. I changed the book from past tense to present tense and back to past tense again. I’ve had many more working titles than I can remember. Over the years I paid large amounts of money on writing classes and workshops and to consultants to look over my work only to disregard what they recommended. The book remains incomplete.
I don’t believe any of my efforts were worthless. In fact with each rendition of my book, I grew into a better writer. But now enough is enough. I am ready to declare what this book is really about and proceed to complete the manuscript. That’s the scary part. Maybe it’s the real reason it’s taken so long to be done.
I promptly lost my first Medicare card. When I opened the envelope and saw the red, white and blue border, I was reminded of the elderly I cared for over twenty years ago when I was a gerontological nurse practitioner. I ran a not-for-profit clinic in a converted one-bedroom apartment on the tenth floor of a senior citizen highrise in Chicago. How many times had I asked to see someone’s Medicare card? Most of my patients were poor, illiterate and had multiple health problems. So when I first looked at my card, I could only remember loneliness, despair and disability. This couldn’t be happening to me. And, poof, the card was gone.
Slowly other patients strolled into my memory. Mildred, blind and lived alone, always asked me to put her kitchen cabinets back in order after her daughter visited. Margie, ninety-something with an Irish brogue, came down to the clinic, laughing as she told us how she chased away the prostitutes with her broom. The prostitutes frequently slipped into the building to solicit and rob the older men.
But Helen was my favorite. She lived in an apartment next to the clinic. She dropped in when I wasn’t busy. She called me Kiddo. She had one son who hardly visited but I rarely heard her complain—about anything. She was the one who taught me not to be uncomfortable talking about death.
Of course, I know older people live longer and are healthier than years ago. I now have the time to write, paint and play with grandchildren. I would like to go back in time and share my experiences of aging with Mildred, Margie and Helen. These resilient women would laugh when I tell them how I lost my first Medicare card.
This year I hesitated to make any New Year resolutions. Why? Because for the last five years, at least, they remain the same:
Write the book.
Lose the weight.
The only thing that changed was the pounds I wanted to drop. They increased yearly. Now it’s 20 pounds! I felt defeated. Depressed.
But something has happened to make me feel positive in reaching my goals after all. When I took my walk yesterday, I put in my ear buds and tuned my I-Phone to The Peoples’ Pharmacy podcast. The show I heard had aired on December 31st and was entitled “Willpower Science.” For the next forty minutes or so I listened to Kelly McGonigal PhD, psychology instructor at Stanford University and a health educator for the School of Medicine Health Improvement Program, discuss reasons why we often fail in keeping our New Year’s resolutions. The take-home message that most attracted me was twofold.
First, think about what you really want. What you are willing to do to achieve it? And what will your life be like if it happens? Not just next year but in two years from now. How proud will you feel if you do achieve your goal? Or the regret you will feel not having made the change.
(I must add here Dr. McGonigal suggests small goals like exercising five minutes a day and increasing slowly. Success breeds success.)
Second, we need to feel self-compassion and self-forgiveness. When we slip up, we shouldn’t chastise ourselves and give up but realize we are human. Guilt and shame undermine our ability to get back on track.
Okay, none of this is really new. But the science behind these statements helped me better understand how willpower works or doesn’t work. Check out Dr. McGonigal’s web site and her book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, And What You Can Do To Get More Of It.
It was serendipitous that I connected to this podcast. I’ll apply the lessons I learned so I don’t have to repeat 2012 resolutions in 2013.
I wish each of you a new year free of guilt and stress.
Be good to yourselves.
I’m putting off making a pumpkin pie for our Christmas dinner to share my delight upon reading Theresa Brown’s Op Ed piece, Looking for a Place to Die, in the New York Times this past Thursday. It’s a sad story but it shows how one nurse can make a difference.
If you doubt the significance of seeing a nurse’s by-line in such a prestigious newspaper, read about how nurses are nearly invisible when doctors write about health care. And check out my friend, Lois Roelofs’ blog, What do nurses really do?, that clued me into The Truth About Nursing, an organization founded by a nurse, Sandy Summers.
Here’s hoping that 2012 will be the year nurses are no longer invisible in the mass media.
Now back to that Pumpkin pie.
I was listening to my long time friend, fellow writer and nurse, Lois Roelofs being interviewed on the Laura Dion Jones Show from Illinois on WRMN 1410, last week. With my I-Pad up to my ear, I settled in a comfy chair in the living room of my daughter’s home in Raleigh. For the next half hour, my four-year-old grandson repeatedly circled my chair, lunged at the dog, and jumped on his eight-year-old brother who was playing Mario Kart and protested loudly. Besides ignoring my grandsons, I ignored the ringing phone and hoped no one would press the doorbell.
Lois wrote a book: Caring Lessons: A Nursing Professor’s Journey of Faith and Self. Lois not only promoted her book but also discussed the special characteristics of the nursing profession. She told Laura’s audience that nurses are not just caring but use manual dexterity along with cognitive and social skills in their interactions with patients. “It’s an intellectually vigorous profession.” And the ultimate multitasking profession, I might add. Anyone who has been hospitalized will appreciate the benefits of a being cared for by a competent and compassionate nurse.
Lois and I met years ago in a baccalaureate-nursing program. We share the same irreverent sense of humor and the love of nursing. And the belief nurses have an important message to share with the public—how and why we make a difference. Lois does a good job during the interview to make this point.
Listen for yourself. Brew a cup of tea. Click and fast forward into the broadcast to 3:05 minutes and hear Lois promote her book and the nursing profession.