Patients look to nurses for many things: They look for strength, they look for guidance and, most of all, they look for integrity in the face of their trampled humility. Sometimes the best advice to give a patient is “hold on tight.”
The tale of Lorna begins with a Pamper.
“Lorna, I suggest you wear a diaper today,” I said.
“Of course not, I’m a lady,” she sniffed. “Hand me my Hanky Panky lace panties. My sister bought them for me at Neiman Marcus. I was their number one model many years back, you know.”
Lorna had related her modeling stories and the adventures of her love life numerous times. I pampered her by lending an ear.
“Did I tell you the story of Henry?” she once asked, crunching her dentures on an egg roll. “He was in the Mafia, you know. He would fly me to Las Vegas and we would stay at the Flamingo. I was his number one girl.”
She would always drift back into her past in an attempt to momentarily forget her present. She loved telling her “number one” stories.
Lorna was in her 70s with a tumor the size of a baseball on the right side of her neck. Sometimes she would wear a silk scarf to cover the crusty radiation lesions that dotted the monumental growth, but more often than not, she would leave the snappy neck piece in her room.
(You know you’re a nurse when you can stand and stare into the face of cancer’s horror show.)
“I still think you should wear a diaper, Lorna,” I repeated. “You’ve been drinking a lot of prune juice with your Senokot.”
“The chemotherapy can be so constipating,” she said.
“Yes, doo-doo stuck is a terrible thing for a lady,” I said as we took a walk down the long hallway.
Taking the time to walk our patients is like giving a thousand hugs. By offering these small gestures we learn that life is never what it seems. “I’ve got to hold on tight,” she would say.
During these walks Lorna shared her dreams with me. Many included the brutal honesty of fate: “I just want another day.”
“Or maybe just a bowel movement,” I said softening this moment.
Just then, we heard a commotion in the room nearest to the nurse’s station.
“What’s going on in that room?” asked Lorna as she scurried closer. (Lorna was a curious woman; I called her the “kitten with a quip.”)
“Let me have a look, would you?”
“No, Lorna.” I said calmly.
“Oh pleeeease,” she meowed.
“Lorna, that patient is withdrawing from drugs and he’s been known to finger paint in there. (For those uninitiated, consider yourself fortunate: “Finger painting” is a term nurses use to describe the drawings of excrement done by disoriented artists.)
“I love art!” she said. And before I could hold her back, she raced her IV pole right smack into the drug addict’s room.
Both patients took one look at each other and screamed; he, for the cancerous tissue around her neck, and she, for the ball of bowel movement that came slinging toward her. It hit the wall, missing her about an inch from the tumor.
Due to the absolute fright, Lorna could no longer “hold on tight.”
And after all the number ones in her life, right there, smack dab in her brand-new Hanky Pankys…
Ms. Lorna had a number two.
“A man can go 70 years without a piece of ass, but he can die within a week without a bowel movement.” —Charles Bukowski
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