With each breath in,
I choose life.
With each breath out,
I choose death
for the things which no longer serve me.
With each breath in,
I choose life.
With each breath out,
I choose death
for the things which no longer serve me.
This happened nearly a dozen years ago,
yet still feels like just yesterday.
Standing at the foot of his bed,
i watched helplessly as he took some of his final breaths.
he was surrounded by the code team,
some peoples’ jobs merely the space they were holding.
a 1st year student, i stood there in my pressed and clean labcoat.
my nursing shoes; unsure what to do.
frozen in my tracks, my voice cracked
when telling the lead physician of his sudden collapse.
the pain in his calves he complained of just moments before
we exited the hospital’s front door.
the CI and I had dismissed the pain as leg cramps
from the progress in his walking distance.
so soon after having been bedridden following his craniotomy,
and partial lobotomy, we didn’t realize the risks and his fate.
the hiss of the oxygen, turned to its highest,
one of the few sounds in the room otherwise quiet.
less than five minutes before,
he, my CI and i had been walking outdoors.
my job for most of the walk had been to guard him,
to keep him steady, to keep him from falling.
i supported him, one hand on his belt,
the other holding his right hand in mine; a steady incline.
within steps of the change in guard,
he experienced a sudden decline.
my CI lowered him to the ground,
if it had been me at guard, both of us fallen, piling.
quickly, i pulled out my ammonia salts,
a sign of my green horns; an intern.
after breaking the tab and insuring his stability,
i ran inside, to procure a set of wheels.
on the way back to his room, his breathing
heavily labored. his skin grey turning.
it almost seemed as if he had had a severe
asthma attack, turning grey from the lack of perfusion.
we rushed him back to his room,
his wife at his side as others activated the code blue.
i watched what was to be their last goodbye,
in my freshly polished shoes and pressed lab coat,
i wanted to cry. false tears were running
down my face, still dry.
oh the things i learned that fateful day,
never ignore the signs of a DVT!
later i learned his astrocytomas & glioblastoma multiform
put him at risk for the emboli that traveled to his airways.
later the lead code physician ordered any non-essential personnel to leave,
head hanging low, i was the only one to go.
others stood there just holding the space,
unsure of their role, yet i couldn’t look anyone in the face.
in shock i sat quietly, then lead back to the clinic office
by someone who had noticed my shift in countenance.
as i passed by the room, where his wife has been shuttled,
my shoulders dropped lower as if in a singular huddle.
checking his chart, following up the the nurses,
we learned that day of his fate: death by asphyxiation
i drove that night, by the river of James,
not caring about the traffic, the slick roads, the rain.
my heart was filled with grief: the father, husband now lost,
my being stuck in traffic, repeatedly, seemed a simple cost.
i cried that night for his death,
it seems I had almost felt the presence of Archangel Azrael.
the next day I was almost relieved to hear,
his wife left grieving was also somewhat relieved.
three young children to care for at home, she didn’t want
them to remember his unsupported death within their abode.
for his affliction & neurosurgery had left him somewhat a child,
within the body of a man, safety awareness withheld.
in his death he had gifted to her the relief her burden of him,
freeing her to focus on the care of their young children.
I believe because of this experience, I was able to help to more quickly identify the signs of DVT in at least 5 others. While others were false alarms, I do not fuck around with the signs: better safe than sorry.
Here are some of the risk factors for DVT (each on its own can cause a blood clot to form):
Don’t see me
For who I am.
Your love is
like sun shining
On Vampire skin.
Today they lay his body
to its final rest.
The second father,
Of the man to which I was
Connected for half my life.
To have known such a man for so many years,
To never to have seen so much as a tear.
My heart goes out to his, his family
His mother, too.
From a group so once connected.
To miss such a transition.
There is love
My heart today.
Missing the funeral
Acting as if it were
Just another day,
So far away.
I’m so sorry
for your loss.
Does the fire fear its own power?
Does the wave ask if it’s part of the ocean?
Does the lake ask, “What is my purpose here?”
Does the bird ask, “How do I raise my young?” Or does the chickless chicken feel like less of a chicken?
Does the cloud ask what happens when it dies?
Does the Universe ask, “What force created me?”
Does the wind ponder what others think of it now?
Do the rivers spend time worrying about being liked more if they traveled a different path or flowed another way?
Do the trees think that they will have more friends if they simply have more limbs?
Does the grass worry if it is too tall, or too short?
Does the gorilla “diet” because she thinks her ass is too big?
Does the raindrop try to be something it isn’t?
Does the bee wonder if it has done enough? That is has to work harder?
Are the snowflakes afraid to be different? Do they fight their uniqueness? Do they fear “being alone” because they are unique?
Does the sun fear offending others because it might be shining too brightly? Or hide behind a cloud?
Image courtesy of dan at freedigitalphotos.net
It was a year ago on my son’s third birthday that I saw her last. She sat in a booth at one of my favorite local eateries talking happily to her friends. Tired myself after a long day of celebration and not wanting to interrupt, I smiled to myself and kept walking by. That was the last time I saw her alive. If only I had known then what I know now… Hindsight is 20/20, right?
That day faded into my memories, lost in the mix of daily life and needs. Until one day, I just happened to read the newspaper when an article’s title caught my eye. It said something to the effect of what some mothers did that most don’t do.
The article talked about how two local mothers had apparently killed their children and then themselves. I read my friend’s name in that article. I sat stunned. In disbelief, I checked my phone to be sure I had her married name right. Yes, it was her.
She was my college roommate the first half of my freshman year. We hadn’t seen each other for 15 years following graduation, when we bumped into each other in the produce aisle 2 years before her death. At the grocery store, we exchanged phone numbers. Her daughter was my daughter’s age. Later, we set a play date and our daughters played together at a local children’s museum while she and I reconnected.
After reading about her violent death, I was very unsettled. It took me several days to process her apparent crime and the violence. The house she rented and died in was within 2 miles of my home. I wondered if I heard the sirens the day they were found. I wondered if I had sent up a prayer, like I often do when I hear the sirens traveling down the main artery by my house.
You see, my imagination went wild after I read more about her death. In my mind’s eye, emotions and in my body, I experienced the events from my friend’s perspective. I can only guess that she felt she was protecting her daughter and in her mind, her daughter was better off dead.
She shot her daughter at close range twice before she put the gun to herself. I can only imagine what she felt and experienced that day.
That day that I saw her at the restaurant was a mere 2 weeks before her death. Maybe I could have known. Maybe I could have intervened or been there to support her.
I didn’t find out until about her death until well after the fact. However, this was important timing for me. As a few weeks later I asked my husband for a divorce.
Knowing how terrible things must have been between my friend and her estranged husband taught me to do my best to keep my heart open as much as possible. There were times that I was angry and expressed myself angrily, but I did not let it continue to become a pattern. Instead, I chose to look at my shadow; the reflection in my of her suffering. It breaks my heart to think how much anger and fear she must have felt to cause her to take her daughter’s life and her own life. May she find peace in death that she could not find here, in her life.
I choose to live.
Photo courtesy of Pong on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
-Henry David Thoreau
The morning schedule was busy with patients who needed physical therapy reassessments and evaluations. This meant writing two notes per patient, testing each patient and “extra” brain work to analyze the test scores. The headache from the early morning antics at home was growing and I was getting hungry; a dangerous combination. A quick chart review revealed that my next patient had been moody at his last therapy visit. “Fantastic!,” I thought to myself as I begrudgingly walked out to the waiting room to call the moody patient back into the busy clinic.
Usually I perform the physical testing prior to performing the patient questionnaire that asks standardized questions of patients to help create benchmarks regarding changes in their function, as well as to help predict outcomes. Since the patient was visually impaired, I had the additional pleasure of reading the questions to him. His answers were long-winded and often did not answer the question being asked. Hungry, in pain and tired now of redirecting him, I was doing my best to remain calm while inside I was screaming in my head. Yes, now I was moody.
One of the questions asked about driving, and being tired, hungry and in pain I read it without even thinking about it. The patient calmly replied, “Did you know about my wife? She use to drive me to my appointments. I lost her last month unexpectedly.” Talk about being instantly humbled. My countenance quickly turned around (and around some more).
From that point on I asked few questions. Instead, I just sat there with the patient and listened to him talk while remaining as present in each moment as I possibly could. No wonder this man was moody! He had unexpectedly lost his wife of 59 years. “I heard a thud and I didn’t realize that she had fallen from a heart attack.” So he was not only grieving for her loss, he was also blaming himself for it.
Yes, of course I cried. I cried tears of sadness for his loss, while grieving my own losses. Some tears were shed in envy. Here I am in the process of separating from my husband of 15 years and this man has lost his spouse of 59 years (I wanted a lift partner, I thought to myself). Other tears were from guilt for having dreaded working with this man and for having judged him difficult before knowing his story. Add to that the shame of not feeling compassion for the patient until he had a heart-wrenching story to tell, thus deviating from my ideals.
At this point I moved into gratitude and wiped away my tears and did my best to verbally acknowledge his suffering. Then I asked his permission to share his feelings with his referring physician.
It can be such a challenge to know what someone else is going through. Sometimes we see someone who is having a bad day and we know not why. In this situation, I was given the gift of an inside glimpse into this man’s life that helped to put him being moody into perspective.
The patient seemed genuinely grateful for the time we spent together today. I know I was grateful and expressed my gratitude to him, as it was another lesson for me to remind me of compassion, unconditional love and that you never really know what someone else may be going through until you walk in his shoes.
Here is a link to a really great ad for The Cleveland Clinic that I feel exemplifies this concept. The video begins with the Thoreau quote from above:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadows of death, I shall fear no evil.
– Psalm 23
In Buddhism, Shiva, the creator and the destroyer, represents the process of breaking down that needs to occur prior to being able to build back up. Nature is filled with examples of this idea of death and rebirth. A wave breaks on the shore before being pulled back out into the ocean, only to form again. The tree dies, decomposes and becomes the nutrients for the seedlings. This is a natural cycle, yet for some reason in our Western culture we shirk away from the idea of death.
The idea of death can become pervasive for me when moving through the painful aspects of the emotions of change. It is then that I often experience pain in a way that leads me to want to die. (Hang up the phone, there’s no need to call for help.) This is a passive wish for which I do not take harmful actions. Over the years and with learning compassion for myself, I have learned that this “death wish” is only temporary. This is the part of me that no longer works for me; the part of me that needs to be released or transformed. It is the part of me that needs love the most at that moment and it is that part of me that is dying to be loved. Literally.
By being compassionate with myself, by performing my self-care rituals such as meditating, going within, chanting mantras or just being still and honoring the part of myself that is “dying” to be reborn, I find that I can move more quickly through this cycle of death. For this is not a true death; instead it is the shadow, or the threat, of death. It is my belief that this is what is meant in Psalm 23. Death is but a shadow that lurks around us. It is our fear of the shadow that gives it the power to control us. By having faith, we are able to move through the valley (“I shall fear no evil, for thine rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23).
The challenge comes in releasing attachment to the part of me that is dying. The attachment to “who I thought I was” is where the suffering begins, and if I chose to allow it, to also end. Loving myself into my strength looks like, and sometimes feels like, death.
By honoring the natural cycle of death and rebirth, I can keep moving through the process. By honoring myself, through compassion, I am able to be reborn. I am able to leave behind that which no longer serves me.
Photo Courtesy of Nick Coombs on FreeDigitalPhotos.net