Nurses write: The comfort of words
Being a nurse helps me to be a better writer, and being a poet helps me to be a better nurse,” explains Cortney Davis in The Heart’s Truth: Essays on the Art of Nursing.
Like other nurse-writers, Davis, a contributor to Scrubs (Fall 2010), uses words not only to honor her patients and the lessons they teach her, but to sort through the complex emotions that come with caregiving. Bearing witness to suffering penetrates heart and soul. Writing about it soothes heart and soul.
Emily A. Weston, RN
ICU, Upstate University Hospital
He knows it has been a bad day when he gets home and she is talking to the dog.
He can’t talk to her when she’s like this, he knows that, and still he tries and fails. They are like a couple of amateur fencers, dancing around each other, afraid to get too close, afraid to strike.
The only time she speaks to him all evening is to ask him if he brought Lucy out. Damn dog of hers.
During dinner, he thinks about windows on a sunny day, great sheets of glass that he’ll draw into his draft of his new building tomorrow. Windows that look clear, but when you stand back a little, you can only see reflections. Her eyes are like that. Her whole being is like that and there is something beneath that he can’t touch. If he does, he’ll have to share it, and he feels like he can only offer pity. Is this love?
After she goes to bed, he works on drafts.
His pencil draws straight, clean lines, and in his mind, a building rises.
Suddenly it is 11 p.m.. She will be in bed already. He feels a sudden need for her, for her physical presence. He is suddenly afraid that one day their long silences will create a rift that neither of them can bridge.
Or perhaps she’ll wither away. Her body, already small, worn down by the nature of her work, will finally crumple under the strain. She should exercise, he thinks, eat right. Stop the diet of chocolate, coffee, lettuce and Advil. She’d feel better.
He brushes his teeth. The bedroom is dark with moonlight and silence. He climbs in bed next to her.
When he lies down, she stirs. “Sorry to wake you,” he says.
“I haven’t slept yet.” In the quiet, he realizes she is crying.
“The worst thing about today was that the patient’s sister just kept saying, ‘We were supposed to go to Florida together.’ And I could just see it. When she first got to us, she looked good, like a cancer survivor…by the time she died, she looked terrible.
In the long dark silence between words, the clock ticks and time moves on.
“I’ve been thinking that all day. And I could see them in a hotel or on some postcard beach down there. She would be bald and not care. And they would do all the stupid things tourists do sometimes. The whole time…they’d be thinking, we survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They probably already had their plane tickets.”
She stops talking and starts crying, big dirty sobs, like a little kid, he thinks. He still says nothing, just holds her. He is trying to think of the last time he’s seen her cry.
“We started two pressors right when she came to us. And of course we couldn’t ventilate her, and her pressure still sucked even after the vaso went up, and they would want to run bicarb. By the time you start bicarb, its too late. You know how you get those people and they just crump faster than you can run, and you are pretty sure they are going to die, but there’s a chance, so you try?” She is crying, sobbing between her words. He doesn’t know, really, what she is talking about, but like Lucy, he listens.
She sits up, and he watches her get out of bed. “I need some tissues,” she says. She goes into the bathroom in the dark. She fumbles around, and when she comes back, he can see by the dim light of the clock and the moon that she has a roll of toilet paper. Her eyes are black holes in her pale face. “I’m sorry I’m such a wreck. I shouldn’t dump on you like this.” She slouches on the side of the bed, back facing him.
He says something then, something quiet and stumbling, pulling her back towards him, wiping her tears, cradling her, and she is quiet for a while.