I used to work for Hospice of the Valley, and a woman who had been a nurse and mentor to me when I was a CNA was admitted to the unit where I worked. Shortly after I had to take a medical leave of absence, and this is from a sleepless night five years ago.
If I was still working there now,
I would be cracking my last unopened chart
the one whose evening was noted in a dozen
red ink one liners
on the outlined nights report
and my eyes would struggle with the strong desire to close,
as I record the symptoms
and the remedies
Medicines results not real until a pen has set them onto paper.
But the work I do tonight is another kind of labour and so my eyes
fill wet and spill out erupting magma darkness
my mind instead of cotton
fills with syrup sad and anger sweet
and tears are the
red lines that will vomit into other black charting
map of this undiscovered place
a record on cyber journal page so I can digest
expose and maybe post
the darkest part of dawn.
I sit and taste the almost moonless night
so once life can cycle again into the light.
I am home here at 3 AM,
my other home,
not the address you find centered on the pile of unpaid bills
but the couch where I have weathered a decade of my tears and fears
while the friend who stood beside me through it all
the marriages and lovers and not quite one night stands
and those others who I wisely did or did not give my heart; upstairs, with her husband sleeps.
I wander her halls
up to the bathroom,
back into bed
one drink of water
and then two
fighting the inevitable fall into my heart
from the safety of my head.
another drink of water
an email check
as inevitable as toddlers sleep
the feelings come
and I curl in the safety of someone else’s couch
clutching yet another toy
the child inside will bring alive
deep beneath my smile and laugh I’ll dive.
but first just one more drink….
another bathroom trip.
In this place thats more than place
in this time thats more than time
Fear is first to walk along the path with me
She brings her sisters Loss and Greed
And hand in hand with little Ego they all stroll.
We wander into fancy
Grief deferred, All lace and rhyme, myth like skipping rhythm droll
past the mirror
the mirror in the bathroom downs the knight, bringing truth to bear on fancies flight
I am not six and safe from Death
It is questions, I think
That haunt me most in this post witching hour.
The Great Unknown.
Questions and a nagging ache that has no words.
I have seen eyes like this before, the ones the mirror makes me meet, my eyes are her eyes staring back.
“I’m not really angry,”
“Not even really sad.”
She thinks a minute
I wisely wait not filling up the space
but allowing the vacuum of the silence to suck from her things she cannot face.
“Its not like pain, your medicine took care of that.”
I notice I still hold the now empty 1 cc syringe in paper in my fingers
to soon from her first dose for chemical relief but I don’t tell her that.
The paper crinkles tighter in the other hand, the one not holding hers.
“And I’m not afraid,” she kind of chuckles and snorts and cries all in the same expulsion of breath,
we both pause all function, while she wipes the pieces of bodily reality from betraying flesh.
“OK, I AM afraid,” she almost yells
as if some inquisitor tore secrets from her absent breast,
“but not of dying,
of making a fool of myself,
of peeing my bed,”
her voice now just a whisper
“of all this, this ugliness.”
The room quiet except for the machine extracting oxygen from air to feed in concentrated form her tired lungs,
the tears start a silent river flood down that pragmatic nurses face,
“of seeing my husband so, so, so sad.”
sobs turn to something stronger,
” I’m not ready to die,”
she clutches my hand even tighter
body jerking with the movement of her mind
and I think of the four tiny fingers that two hours ago clutched tight to mine as I fed them their last bottle.
I say, moving no closer,
not moving at all
a hug the surest way to scare away that wild burst of rankled grief
that unlanced will trouble every dying breath,
A tiny part of me wants to meet her eyes and let her see
“I know!” it screams in mousy squeeks,
“Look at me, ” it wants to say in outside voice
but that’s a voice for therapy
Support group meetings
dogs and bears at 3 AM.
blue hot in the center of her life’s flickering flame
she is a nurse as well
and would find escape in comforting me.
This is her Rubicon,
and this woman that I midwife out of this mortal life
like me has held a hundred hands
and this moment is not
“Nobody is ready.” I murmur back.
Are these the right words
I never know
Right or wrong
what I say really doesn’t seem to matter.
Its not about me and
Its the telling that the woman needs the most
so what I do is sit and listen.
“I feel so bad,”
she says as the boil on her feelings burst
“I hate that its all about me all the time
I grow uglier to myself daily
and he tells me I’m beautiful.”
“I’m not beautiful,”
The damn inside completley broken she reaches out to me
and I sit on the edge of the bed
and hold her rocking back and forth
as she shakes and weeps.
“I can’t tell them,” she says,
“I can’t tell him,
but… I’m….. so……… tired” she gasps and tries to fight again,
“I love him, but I’m so tired ” confessional thorn torn from her
She doesn’t win against her weather, but all storms spend themselves in time.
“It’s OK,” I murmur, “He knows you love him.
and we all get tired sometimes”
I rock her till she falls asleep
and lay her back on morphine’s pillowed lap.
The irony of phrasing is not lost on me,
I smile small as
I tuck a sheet here
adjust the light there
switch on the gentle lap of waves and native flute
The years of weathered marriage reflecting another conversation
Her husbands sat rigid amidst the soft cushions
like he was ensconced in a hardback confessional chair
It was the first night of my week
the night of his wife’s admittance.
We did not hug,
he and me,
that may or may not have come later,
it always depends on how long it takes for nature to work its final task
but I thought then “in time we will.”
That night he only looked at his hands,
“I can’t tell her,”
his voice broke as he fought for control and won, at least,
“I can’t tell her.”
He looked at me for forgiveness that he didn’t need.
“I love her so much, but I’m so tired.”
“Its Ok,” I said and touched ever so slightly his hands,
“Its OK to be tired, I can tell you love her.
We’re all tired sometimes”
He shook himself then
the emotions flying away like water off a retriever’s back
as he left his list of numbers and instructions and all business like and strong headed off to handle life’s overwhelming tasks.
I walk him to the door
both so silent,
almost a hug;
the leaning in the most he yet could risk,
“I know you’ll take good care of her,
she’s everything to me.”
His voice a challenge, an order,
not yet a trusting request.
He tucked a shirt tail here
Smoothed greying hair there
She cried as described
day two of that four day week
and died on my days off
that doorway the closest he and I would get to hugging.
My charting said first night
“Support and education provided to spouse.”
and I checked the box “Grieving appropriate”
or however that paper I filled out a hundred hundred’s time
diminishes the hurricane to pencil marks and numbers.
The second night same phrase of sorts,
“Education and support provided to patient,”
followed by my ten favorite words,
“Patient sleeping. No S/S of pain, nausea or respiratory distress”
Three AM darkness
has faded into 5 AM dawn. I will not return to that work again, except perhaps myself as patient.
If I was at work
I would be coming back awake with the rush of deskless shift end tasks.
But I am home
here at my friends
and dawn has come
and I know
That soon I too will sleep.