Saturday, July 7, 2007

Patients as Heroes

REFLECTING ON: Interacting with patients on the Oncology Unit at the Hospital where I have been assigned clinical rotations...

There was a distinct feeling that I got Thursday and again yesterday at the end of clinicals: this is doable. Not only that, I got the distinct feeling that I was meant to do this. I am built to be a nurse.

One of the issues that I continually confront with a “do-gooder” personality is offering help in situations where perhaps it isn’t always requested, needed or appreciated. Though there are certainly subtleties and nuances in providing care to patients, generally speaking, I am there to help and it is most certainly needed. It feels good to be needed and appreciated. Such a contrast from my last job where I continually had to grow thick skin, suck it up, and deal with all sorts of abusive language/behaviors without much of a grain of appreciation. I don’t know how I did it for as long as I did.

I am working on the oncology unit for my first clinical rotation. Everybody there is dealing with the big “C”. Generally speaking, it is my impression that in American society, cancer is synonymous with death. Sure there are treatable types, but the word “cancer” seldom describes good news unless you are defeating the disease.

These patients my heroes. They are humble, possibly because they have no choice, but nearly all of them are kind—and attitude is something that they do have a choice in. I don’t want to romanticize their situation that is so far from glorious, but then again, perhaps we need a new definition of glory.

I met this man, Alfonze, a 29-year-old father of two, who is fighting Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia for the second time. His prognosis is not good: his cancer has metastasized. To compound matters, his youngest son is also fighting cancer at another hospital.

Bright-eyed and bushy tailed, I walked into Alfonze's room yesterday to practice taking vitals just as he had received the news that a second tumor was found in his son. The expression on Alfonze's face was clear: he already knew the second tumor was a death sentence.

Writing “Death sentence” sounds harsh to me right now, but I am not going to mince words here. I am not going rehash some tired words that “everything is going to be okay”. What a line. Try as we might, we cannot control everything—we are not gods. Not me and not the physicians who write the treatment orders. Everything is far from okay. A father and son that I know have a greater probability of dying this year than they do living and that is so far from okay.

And yet, here is Alfonze, being so kind to me as I fumble with the blood pressure cuff. That is glory: bravery manifested as kindness while facing almost insurmountable challenges. Alfonze is glorious. My definition of glory includes people that fight with dignity and character.

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