17: Nurse and Patient

17: Nurse and Patient

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Nurse and Patient

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

~Anaïs Nin

All I could hear was the sound of my feet hitting the pavement for those last few steps of my daily five-mile run. Those last few steps always hit the pavement the hardest but were the most melodic to my ears. As much as I loved my run, I loved it most the second it was over. I think I liked the idea of training for the New York City Marathon. That’s just who I am (or who I was). I did things big — for the challenge. Some might have called it arrogance. My friend Sue called it “the power.” She said I had it over every aspect of my life — work, men, marathons — whatever I wanted.

I remember an underlying feeling that I was invincible. I felt comfortable in my life and in my own skin. At twenty-two, I became a nurse, immediately went back to school in pursuit of my master’s degree, bought my first home at twenty-five and felt like I was completely untouchable.

I went home, showered and went to work. I worked in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where the parents were just as much the patients as the children — sometimes more so. I never minded. I loved my patients and their families. Coming from a crazy family myself, I guess I understood. At that point in my life I didn’t even know any children. That is probably what made me effective at my job. I was caring and sensitive but when I looked at a sick child I didn’t see my own baby the way some nurses did.

I had a gift for dealing with “difficult” parents too. I guess I saw it as yet another challenge. If I could get those parents to trust me to take care of their sick child long enough for them to go take a shower or eat a meal, I knew I was a success. That was all the validation I needed. Many people say the PICU is one of the most challenging areas in nursing. In retrospect, that is probably why I chose it initially. That job was stressful, sad, heart wrenching, rewarding — and it made me feel like a superhero.

I had lost a patient at work the night before and, when I came home, I wanted to blow off some steam with my usual routine. The difference was, I was angry on this run. I wasn’t really paying attention and was just sort of going through the motions waiting for some endorphins to kick in and make me feel better. Tears were still streaming down my face — a side of myself I never let anyone see. In fact, I was the type of person who denied her feelings so much that, if I had to cry, I usually did it in the shower. The theory being — if your face is already wet, it doesn’t count. But, on that particular day, I couldn’t hold back. I was so upset, in fact, that I didn’t pay much attention to the tingling in my legs that morning.

The next day, I was able to turn off some of the emotions that had made me weep so uncharacteristically the day before. I guess I was less distracted because the tingling had become very apparent now. It didn’t keep me from running, but it was noticeable. After all, I was training for a marathon. I didn’t have time to worry about a little tingling. Several days later, I was out at dinner with a handsome lawyer whose name I don’t even remember now. Over our Greek salads I said, “Shin splints!” Clearly all of this training was giving me shin splints. That was it! It was the obvious explanation and I couldn’t understand how I didn’t realize it sooner.

The funny thing about denial is that it usually has an expiration date. About two weeks later, I found myself in my doctor’s office asking for an MRI. I suspected I had multiple sclerosis and wanted to go through the formality of ruling it out. He laughed at me and said, “You nurses are the worst — you think you have everything.” We had known each other a long time and were friends, so even though he thought I was a total hypochondriac at that point, he appeased me for the sake of our friendship.

It was a Tuesday. I don’t know why I always remember that but I do. I guess the day your life changes forever you remember the details. My friend the doctor called. His voice was different. He started to cry and said he was so sorry he had laughed at me. I knew what that meant because my legs gave out and I sat down on the bed but, at the same time, I was confused. It was surreal. I couldn’t speak. It wasn’t until he actually said, “You have multiple sclerosis” that I simply said, “Okay” and hung up the phone. I hadn’t even told anyone that I was having the testing done because I never really thought this would be the outcome. Now I had to tell people. Once you start telling people it becomes real and it is so much harder to live in denial once it’s real.

I was so angry. I was angry that I might not be able to do all the things I wanted to down the line. I was angry that my family and friends might look at me differently. I was angry that I had to consider changing my career path. Most of all, I was angry that I couldn’t run that stupid marathon!

Then I started analyzing why I got MS. Maybe this was all payback for the way I treated the men I dated. I was a terrible daughter growing up — a real delinquent. My mother always said I put every gray hair on her head. I used to beat up my sister. Maybe if I had been nicer all those years, this wouldn’t have happened to me. What if I promised to be a better person? Maybe all of this would go away. I could be good. I could be a good girlfriend — even settle down. That would kill two birds with one stone. That would make my Italian mother the happiest woman in the world and I would be better in the relationship department.

It started me thinking very philosophically about why bad things happen to good people — or do they? It kept coming back to me that maybe bad things just happen to bad people and I clearly fell into that category. I became a saint overnight because, if the same principles applied, then good things were going to happen to me because I was going to be the next Mother Teresa if it killed me.

Needless to say, this did not work. The plan was doomed from the start. The last thing I am is a saint. The truth is, sometimes things just happen. There is no rhyme or reason to it. It just happens. Some people believe everything happens for a reason. I happen to be one of them . . . but I’ll get to that later. In the end, it was not worth the energy to try to figure it out why this happened to me and, the truth is, none of us will ever truly know anyway. I just found that it served me better in the long run to focus my energy on getting better.

At some point you realize that this thing that has invaded your existence is simply not going to go away. Despite all of your yelling and screaming, crying and begging, this is it. For me, surprisingly, that point was not until much later when I had my second episode.

It sort of hit me the first time I had to give myself an injection. I sat with the needle in my hand staring at my leg for over an hour. I was a nurse for crying out loud! What was wrong with me? I had given more injections throughout my career than I could count but, for some reason, putting that pointy metal object into my own body felt completely unnatural.

I went from being “me” — larger than life — to someone I didn’t recognize. Someone I didn’t like or even understand. I felt lost. I had no idea that so much of my self-esteem was tied to my work. I was used to being the caregiver, not the receiver. I was humbled. This was something I couldn’t control and I hated that. People told me just to let go, relax and let someone else take care of me for a change but there was nothing relaxing about letting go for me. All I wanted was to cling to my former self, my former life and everything I once was.

When I was first diagnosed, I decided I was going to control this disease — it was not going to control me. Well, I have since amended that notion. I can’t control this disease or the randomness of it but I can manage it to the best of my ability and embrace the unexpected. The only control I have is to control my response to some of the bizarre things my body has done over the last decade since I was diagnosed with MS.

I started to understand the unpredictability of this illness. I came to realize that one day I may be sick and the next I may be fine. It took me months (even years) to really understand. Years can go by and nothing but minor inconveniences that everyone suffers will come up and then something can come along and knock me on my ass . . . but that’s life, isn’t it? There’s nothing so unique about me.

In some ways, I really feel like I’ve been given a huge gift. I have learned to go with the flow in ways I never knew I could. I have since been thrown more curve balls than I can count but they don’t knock me off my game because I’ve learned to trust that I can handle whatever gets thrown at me. I have since survived breast cancer and a bilateral mastectomy too. I’m not saying it was easy but I think positively, surround myself with positive people and I believe in myself and in the power of positive thinking.

While I tend to be a little more cautious than some people when it comes to my health, I take a lot more risks when it comes to my life. I try to live and enjoy every moment that I can and do all the things I want to do. I’ve scaled the Great Wall of China, climbed the Eiffel Tower, seen Big Ben, partied at Mardi Gras, been on a shark expedition, landed by helicopter on top of a glacier, walked among the redwoods, stared at the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel and I live in the greatest city in the world . . . New York! (This is probably my greatest adventure of all.)

I’m still a nurse and I’m still a patient. I’m not defined by either one. My identity is not wrapped up in what I do or what I have. They are both contributing factors in my life but they are not who I am.

My life is not over because I hit a bump. It has just shifted routes, but that’s okay because my next stop is the Galapagos Islands. I’m still thinking big.

~Sidney Anne Stone

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