Discovering a Sense of Presence in the Midst of Pain and Chaos
I just finished my three months probationary as an RN, and I had one of those nights. You know one of those shifts where you decide to forgo eating and the use of the bathroom so that you can provide at least adequate nursing care.
I walked onto my oncology floor to discover I was assigned, three patients. I was excited to start my night off light but, something felt off. Nurses huddled in corners, whispering. The Chief Nursing Officer sat with intensity at the nurse's station. The space had the unmistakable aroma of pain and confusion.
I soon understood why. During the day shift, a fellow nurse assisted an oncologist with intrathecal chemotherapy treatment. Only after completing the procedure did they realize that it was the wrong medication dosage. A mistake that cost the man his life.
It was under this weight that I began to make my rounds:
The first was a middle-aged gentleman accompanied by his wife and two adult children. He had Multiple Myeloma, and while he waited for a bone marrow transplant, he came to our hospital to receive blood transfusions every 2-3 weeks. I had not cared for him before but felt confident I had the skills and knowledge to meet his needs. However, my fellow newbie nurse informed me that the patient refused me as a nurse because I looked too young and timid. (To be fair. I was 23 and looked 16) This was my first time to be rejected by a patient. I was overwhelmed by insecurity.
The heaviness of the evening grew heavier as I walked down the hall to meet my next patient. He was in his early thirties. I cannot remember his diagnosis, but he was in severe pain, had horrific oral lesions, and needed a blood transfusion. He was alone in his room and his suffering. I spent much of my night on the phone trying to get a hold of the oncologist to confirm the transfusion and work on pain management. His suffering was profound, while my ability to meet his needs felt inadequate.
It was under this burdensome load in which I met my final patient. She was a woman in her sixties with a cheery, friendly demeanor. She had just undergone surgery, and we all knew the results would come in soon. After an assessment, I left her listening to music and holding hands with her husband. About 2 hours into my shift, her oncologist arrived and asked me to go with him into the room and offer them comfort as he delivered the news ... She had metastatic cervical cancer. I watched and tried to offer comfort as they began to experience the crashing waves of fear, loss, and hope.
I left the room and took my break. Instead of eating, I hid away in the bathroom so I could cry and pump milk for my six-month-old infant at home. I was able to catch my breath and will my face and eyes to return to their pre-sob state. I grabbed my clipboard (this was in 1999) and headed back to the floor to care for my patients.
I went into the room I left earlier. I entered timidly with my best I am completely calm, confident, and "ready to take care of you," look on my face. I felt like I was being held together by duct time. My patient and her husband, on the other hand, were sitting with dignity and strength after receiving the dreaded news of metastatic cancer. Their bodies showed the weight of the upcoming journey yet with faces full of hope. They had stabilized after plummeting into the first crushing wave that comes with such a diagnosis.
At that moment, God showed up in them.They thanked me for my kindness and tender care. They reminded me who God says I am. They anchored me with them in the storm. They handed me a small angel they purchased in a gift shop and insisted I take it. (not to worry, I let my supervisor know). I still have that angel. It reminds me that God says, “I see you, I know you, I'm with you ." this was only the first of many times in my adult life that God has reminded me of this truth.
As medical professionals, we all spend our days caring for the needs of others. It's what we are born to do. So far, this decade has shown itself to be particularly challenging. Many of us feel stretched beyond our capacity by caring for patients with higher acuity levels while meeting demands at home and being the resident expert of Covid with everyone we know. In painful and chaotic times like these, we need to be intentional in our efforts to RECOGNIZE Divine presence in and all around us.
It's our prayer that you will be able to stop and RECOGNIZE when you have an encounter with Divine Presence this week.