Of A Healer- The End

Good bye,” I whisper as the glass doors shut behind me. A vacuum slowly envelopes all my insides as my feet mechanically walk to the car. I can feel the tears forming in their ducts. Sense the flood of emotion brimming just beneath the surface.

Walls subconsciously constructed began to crack with the weight of experiences.

All the memories.

All the people.

The shadows.

The death.

The lives.

It all ended with those glass doors hissing shut.

I stop, not wanting to look back and fearing to walk forward.

For that moment, waiting motionless in the dark parking lot I was empty inside.

And I wish I could stop feeling.

-M.E. InkOwl

Of A Healer- Reality

“So how was the week?” I asked punching in my code to open the supply cabinet.

“It was fun!” my coworker exclaimed, “I went out with the other preschool moms, it was so weird.”

We both laughed at the absurd normality of the statement.

“I know!” I said with a smile, “your doing something that other people do. You-“

Glass doors slid open at the far end of the core, voices and bodies rushed in.

“Can you grab the LR? We’re going to need it.”

“I’ve got the crash cart, did you send out the call?”

“The HUC did, what else do you need?”

“It’s bad, it’s really bad, she not going to make it.”

“Out of the way!”

“Some time today would be nice with those meds!”

We found ourselves brushed to one side as faces rushed by.

Silence falls between us and we look through the glass doors. Beyond a fervor of organized chaos envelops a form on a white linen bed.

Quietly we stood there watching transfixed by the movements. Until I suddenly remembered the bundle of linens clutches in my arms.

“I probably should go do this,” I said and walked away.

-M.E. InkOwl

Of A Healer- Hallelujah

“Hallelujah!” she cries, clapping rail thin hands. I smile and take off the blood pressure cuff.

“I take it, it’s good news!” I say with a smile.

“Free,” she says, overcome with apparent joy.

“What was that?” I ask as tears stream down her cheeks.

She sniffs and laughs all at once, “Cancer free, I’m cancer free!”

And as I clasp her hands and smile, we both start to cry.

-M.E. InkOwl

Of A Healer- Stay

I stepped quickly back towards the door, just noticing the room’s single occupant. He stared back with red rimmed eyes. A tissue clutched in one hand.

I shouldn’t be here, in this place of mourning. He shouldn’t have to be disturbed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-“

“It’s okay he says, voice gruff with emotion, “ I was leaving anyway.”

He’s young, about my age. Face line with worry and fatigue.

I feel riveted to the spot, unable to leave or stay.

He stands up awkwardly and moves towards the door walking with feet of led.

I hold the door open as he passes. He nods as fresh tears run down his face, and I almost taste his sadness.

I want to speak, I want to reach out. But all I can do is stay.

-M.E. InkOwl

Of A Healer: Too Old

“I’m too old for this,” she moaned as we repositioned her body higher up in the hospital bed.

“You are not,” I said, looking her square in the eye.

Her eyes narrowed and a gnarled hand reached up to point a finger at my chest, “Boy, I’m 86 years old, I’ve got 15 great-grandkids, and I’m stuck in here fighting cancer. I’m too old!”

I gave a short laugh and said, “that’s nothing! I had a patient who woke up from surgery and asked where the hell she was, and what the hell we were doing in her room.”

“She was 96, and her family didn’t even bother telling her she was going in for surgery.”

My patient looked at me, mouth open in shock.

“You’re right,” she said, that’s too old.”

-M.E. InkOwl

Of A Healer: Goat Boy

“Hey Mary, sorry to bother you again,” I said knocking on the door as I stuck my head in, “I just need to check your drains.”

Mary sat in her hospital bed, her bare head wrapped In a colorful scarf. Her wrinkled face broke into even more smile lines as the eighty-two-year-old waved me in.

“Yes of course! Come check out these dreadful things,” Mary said, brandishing the fluid-filled plastic bulbs. Lines of dark red ran from the bulb and into her gown.

I knew full well those drains ended almost another foot inside the body. But it was best not to think about it. I was still a new Healthcare Assistant and wanted to put my best foot forward with my patients.

“Well they’re not not that dreadful,” I said, remembering a pair of ill-colored drains in the next room over.

“Oh really?” Said Mary, a note of incredulity plain in the air between us.

“Errrmmmm-” was all I could say without grossing her out or breaking legal confidence.

“You know Mike, I think you’ll appreciate this,” she said as a sly smile crept across her face.

“When I was a young girl my father owned his own farm. We kids would be up at the crack of dawn to help him feed all the livestock. We had cows and chickens, horses and pigs, sheep and ducks. Everything.”

“That’s amazing!” I said, emptying the contents of a drain into a cup and setting it aside.

“It was,” Mary said with a knowing smile, “but my favorite had to be the group of silly goats my father had bought at a livestock auction. They were the most bizarre animals I’d ever seen.”

“Goats are the weirdest!” I exclaimed, trying to not show how much I loved everything about goats. This poor woman already knew I was an odd duck, no sense in giving her more fodder.

“They are! They eat everything and anything they can get their little mouths on,” she said with a laugh.

I took a cup to the restroom and flushed the contents down, then returned with another container.

“Anyway that’s beside the point,” she said, lifting one of the surgical drains with a wrinkled hand, “why I mention the goats is because of these drains.”

“Really?” I asked, confused as to where this was going. An image of a goat eating surgical drains came to mind, but I waited for her to continue.

“Yeah, you see the goats made me laugh so hard because, well . . .” she paused, her face going a light shade of pink.

What on earth? I thought, pausing with one hand holding another drain and cup.

She gave a small giggle, “because they had these weird goat balls . . .”

Mary was now holding a pair of drains up in front of my uncomprehending face. My brain wasn’t registering what she was saying and it wasn’t until she threw her head back and laughed out loud that I understood.

“Goat balls!” I all but yelled as this 80-year-old woman shook with laughter.

“Yes!” she said between guffaws, “I have goat balls!”

I tried to hold my professionalism together for about three seconds and then exploded with laughter, “You totally have goat balls!”

Tears were pouring down our faces as I tried to find a seat to keep me from falling over. Mary couldn’t catch her breath as she rocked side to side with laughter.

“Oh my gosh, Mary that’s the best thing I’ve heard all day!” I said when I finally caught my breath.

“I know!” she said with glee, “I’ve been wanting to tell you this all day!”

We sat there giggling for a minute, staring down her drains, and then I remembered the cup of fluid I still held in my hand.

“I better get these emptied,” I said and emptied the remaining drain. Stepping back into the room I saw Mary’s face covered by a large smile.

“I needed that Mike,” she said.

“I did too,” I admitted pulling off my gloves and tossing them into the garbage, “I’ve got to step out now but you call me if you need anything.

Mary nodded her head and lifted a couple drains up, “If they fill back up I’ll call you to come empty these goat balls.”

We laughed more as I stepped away. The day moved on and before I knew it shift report was happening. People were moving everywhere. In the melee, I forgot to stop by Mary’s room one last time to say goodbye and didn’t remember until I was at home in bed.

A few day’s later when I came into work my manager had a small white card waiting for me in the break room.

“This was from one of the patient’s you took care of a few days back, at least I’m thinking it’s you,” she gave me a weird look and handed the card to me.

“Are you ‘Goat Boy’?

Simultaneously choking on a laugh and trying to keep a straight face I said,”yeah, you could call me that.”

Inside the card, in a neatly scrawled hand was this note:

To all those who took care of me,

While I recovered, thank you. I could never have recovered as well as I have under your special care and support. I will remember each and every one of you, you have my sincerest thanks and appreciation. And to my Goat Boy, thank you for all the laughs.

Best Wishes,

Mary

-M.E. InkOwl

Of A Healer: Laments To A Father

“Mike, I miss my father,” Jon said, standing at the wide set of windows. He was tall and lean, a man that had been made rugged by the challenges of life. Jon was an impressive size, standing at a six foot, three inches. His stature commanded attention with a military history only served to enforce his presence.

I remember the first time I’d met him two weeks previously. Every aide had been fired from his room or had left voluntarily and that morning the night aide gave me a look worth a thousand negative words.

“It’s going to be a rough day,” she said with raised brows, “good luck.”

Taking a breath I smiled and said, with a bit too much cheerfulness, “sounds good to me.”

“Whadda ya want?” said a gruff voice from behind the privacy curtain as I pulled open the door with a knock.

I took another quick breath, “Hi, I’m Mike, I’m your aide for the day-”

“Get out,” Jon said from the bed. Someone must have removed the footboard to the bed because his feet were hanging almost half a foot off the end of the bed. He looked small to me, as with most people who are half sunk in hospital air mattresses. But then he shifted and lifted a tremendous arm.

“I said, go away,” Jon snarled, trying to roll over. He succeeded in a half roll that shot lines of pain through his body. I knew by the way he legs stiffened and back arched.

“Looks like I can’t,” I said in a matter of fact tone. I sounded surer of myself than I felt as I stepped to his bedside and helped him maneuver a pillow into position.

“I let the nurse know you’re in pain,” I said about to leave and then paused.

“I’ll grab another set of hand so we can boost you up in bed,” I added with an easiness I shouldn’t have felt, “you almost touch the floor.”

For a minute I thought I’d gone too far. He was staring At me with merciless eyes, sizing me up or figuring out how to kill me and get away with it.

I shifted a foot as I continued to hold his gaze.

He suddenly cracked a weak smile.

“Go ahead, I’m not going anywhere.”

That had been the first of his wall to come down. Now several days later, I was watching him stare off into the distance while the rest of him crumble.

“I miss my dad,” he said in a whisper as he turned away from the window and sat down on his newly made bed tears making their way down his face.

I had a pillow half in a pillowcase and was staring dumbfounded at the man’s shoulders shook with emotion.

In a daze, I stepped over to the side of the bed and awkwardly stood next to my patient.

Tears poured down his face as sob after sob came out of him. Automatically I reached out to the tissues at the bedside table and handed him one.

By then his crying had a subsided and he gave me a grateful smile while wiping his nose.

“Thank you, Mike, I’m sorry to do this.”

I gave him a small smile back and said, “it’s okay, Jon, this is why I’m here.”

He looked out the window again for a long moment.

And then spoke as if he were one lost in another world, “you know I’m nothing like my father. He was kind and thoughtful. I remember he was so gentle.”

There was a catch in his next breath.

“I- I didn’t turn out anything like him, you see,” he paused tears again glinting in his eyes, “he died when I was fifteen. One day he was there and then the next . . . gone.”

I laid a hand on Jon’s shoulder, willing him to get it all out.

“And now, after all these years, I find myself here, dying of cancer and being alone,” his voice tightened and I felt his shoulders begin to shake, “and all I want to do is be with him again, feel his hug-”

He choked off into another series of sobs and cries. In that moment there was only one thing to do. I wrap an arm around Jon’s shoulder and let him cry.

-M.E. InkOwl

Of A Healer- A Conversation in Scrubs

“Why me?” he said with trembling hands, “when I am so close to dying?”

I took his hands so worn and kind and wrapped them in my own.

Licking dry lips he continued, “Someone else needs this so much more. I am just . . . me.”

“Why not you?” I asked looking in his eyes, “why NOT you? You’re human, you’re here flesh and blood. Who knows what we will do for you. Who knows what we will learn from you. ”

A sob escapes between those lips, “because I’m not worth it.”

I gently tighten fingers around those shaking hands.

“You are, and you will never know how many people you will help by being you.”

-M. E. InkOwl


Of A Healer is a series of captured moments from my work with individuals who are battling cancer. For a long time, these moments have been tucked away in my mind, too tender to share until now. Please enjoy each brief insight into the medical world.

Of A Healer: In Death’s Arms

*Warning this piece contains some graphic medical descriptions and medical field situations that some may find disturbing.*

“Hey, could you come here?” Bev called as she stuck her head out of a room.

I hear a note of panic rising slowly in her voice, but didn’t think anything of it as she stepped back beyond the glass door and curtain.

“Yeah, hang on, I’m coming,” I called back launching a pair of used gloves into a nearby garbage.

It was the end of shift and report was finished with only five minutes to spare. The day had been long and arduous and I was ready to be off the unit and out in the real world.

Not that I’ll have time to appreciate it, I thought stepping into the room and seeing a blinding orange sun sink beneath the horizon.

Dark when I get here, dark when I leave, I repeated in my head with a forlorn look.

I glanced back out into the hall where a flock of residence and medical students had gathered outside the room, no doubt waiting to make the assessments.

They’re flocking this way, I thought to myself and pulled on some gloves.

“How can I help?” I asked looking around for Bev.

“We’re in here,” she called from the bathroom, “sorry, he’s just not feeling really well.”

In Bev’s arms a elderly gentleman wretched and gasped saliva into the toilet.

Bev stood behind him hands supporting his waste as he shook slightly from the effort.

“I just need you to hold him here,” she said with a small grunt, “while I grab the Nurse and let her know he’s not feeling good.”

The man wretched again, but to no avail. His body shook again.

I jumped forward eager to help as she held onto him for a second more. I could see, for a moment, her hand shaking and face growing pale.

Something was wrong.

“Is he alright?” I called after her, but Bev was already gone running out the door.

The patient shook in my arms as another wave of nausea hit him hard.

His breaths were coming in strange sporadic gasps and the shaking was getting worse.

“Hang in there, I said, planting a foot and knee just behind his legs.

This isn’t good, I thought now feeling fear raise the hair on the back of my head, where the hell is Bev?

S-s-sit,” gasped the man as he tried to turn his head towards me.

“Yeah maybe we should sit down-” I was about to say, but his knees buckled and his entire body weight landed on my ready knee.

“Hey!” I yelled, ” anyone out there? I could use a hand!”

Where is everyone?

Suddenly the patient pitched forward and belched out a fountain of green bile into the toilet.

Caught by surprise, I gave a yell and held onto him even tighter. More bile fountained from his mouth hitting the toilet and tiled wall. Light green missed with bits is dark.

That’s too much fluid, I thought as adrenaline broke through the shock.

“Help!” I screamed as his whole body weight pulled against me. Both my arms were wrapped right around the man’s waste and we leaned towards the wall beside us.

Fluid continued to pour uncontrolled from his mouth. To my horror his head flopped forward as he slipped into unconsciousness and more fluid poured from mouth and nose. Fluid was being pushed out of the tear ducts in his eyes.

“CODE! SOMEONE CALL A CODE THIS MAN IS DYING!” I screamed slamming my body against the wall in an effort to pull the bathroom call light and signal to anyone what was going on in the room.

Where are the freaking residents? I thought wildly as I staggered under unconscious weight.

“CODE! SOMEONE CALL A CODE NOW!” I continued screaming as a I heard voices begin to yell out in the hall.

Bile was draining onto the floor, running down my arms and onto my feet.

I could feel the sticky warmth rolling over my skin and had to choke down my own vomit.

“WE’RE HERE!” Someone finally responded flinging open the doors as the rest of my strength left me and we both slid into the tiled floor.

The man’s body lolled sickly over my own as I tried to prevent his head from cracking against the ground. I was beneath him, feeling the warmth of his body on my legs and lower torso.

It was at that very moment I felt the patient’s body tense, ever so slightly, as if he were regaining consciousness. For a moment I thought he was going to open his eyes, push away from me, or speak; but then his body went boneless.

A gurgle escapes his mouth as more fluids dribbled out, but then he was gone.

“No,” I croaked, realizing what I had just felt, “No!”

Someone above us wretched and there was more yelling as medical teams poured into the room.

I grabbed wildly at the man’s neck trying to feel for a pulse, but his head just flopped against my arm.

“I’m not feeling anything!” I yelled, reaching for his arm, “there’s nothing on his arm. No pulse!”

“Let’s move him out of the room,” called a nurse from the code team. Med-students and nurses alike pulled the man off of my body. But I was in shock and couldn’t let go of his head.

“He’s gone,” I said astonished to find myself sobbing as his body was pulled out across the floor. Tracks of green bile traced the spot from me to the now lifeless body.

“He’s gone.” I cried as someone pulled me up from the floor and pulled me out the open bathroom door. I looked down to see someone working on his chest, cartilage snapping along the man’s sternum as they compressed his heart.

His body was bouncing around like a rag-doll and his stomach rolled in waves, filled with fluid.

I gagged and made for the door of the room where familiar faces stood gawking and waiting to run supplies as needed.

They looked at me in my scrubs covered with filth. Their mouths moved as a hundred questions assaulted me from all sides, but all I could do was keep walking. I gagged again and the found the energy to push myself into the nearest secure med-room.

The door clicked behind me and I sank down to the floor too numb to even cry.

The only thought in my mind, I just felt someone die.

-M.E. InkOwl

Of A Healer: Ode to the Dying

Where do I begin,

I am living and you are dying.

It’s as simple as that,

I sit by your bedside and watch as your chest flutters and vitals fail.

In your lungs rattles a single dice,

Signaling for Death to come.

I feel my heart beating within my chest, watching you as the numbers draw to a close.

It’s not simple, no matter what they say.

45 minutes ago I was having lunch with my family. Exchanging jokes and wiping messy faces.

Now I sit with you, as your loved ones all discuss how next week you’ll take a flight to the east coast.

This is not to cry woe is this CNA for he has a dying patient,

I made my choice.

I knew what was included in the job description when I asked for this position.

But I sit here, the only person who understands that death is coming.

Carefully laid plans of mortal minds are waiting to be dashed,

Like a Jackal hunting for a wounded prey.

I try to speak about what is to come, but I might as well be on board the Titanic.

It’s too beautiful and grand to slip into the sea,

Unthinkable, inconceivable, a gross miscalculation.

But I understand the hidden depths of this iceberg,

How much is truly out of our control and just lingering under the surface?

So please forgive me as I watch them all talk,

And hold tight to your hand as we both know what’s to come.

I’m here for you, to the very end,

I’ll assist you in closing that great glistening book of life.

-M.E. InkOwl