advent rose

Goodness, life has been exceedingly full over the last ten days.  It all began with a washing basket that only had 2 towels and a half load of washing in it.

That was two Sundays ago – the day before I began my two week placement in an Oncology ward at a large public hospital.  As I picked up that wretched basket, I felt a sharp and painful twinge in my lower back.  No, no, no, no … this could not possibly happen at the start of placement.  But despite spending the rest of the day resting my back, taking pain relief, and performing the gentle stretches my physio gave me the last time I hurt my back – over ten years ago – I arrived at the hospital, bright and early on the Monday morning, with an excruciatingly sore back.

There was nothing I could do about it.  If I couldn’t meet my placement obligations, I would have to repeat the semester.  So, I staggered on – literally.  My doctor prescribed pain relief for the days and a muscle relaxant for the nights.  Julian massaged my back every evening when I collapsed onto the bed.  And he and Abby kept the house running.  Every ounce of energy and concentration I had was poured into my patients.  I confess, there were several moments when I simply lay there and cried.

And yet, what an incredibly humbling experience.  Because, as I have walked – as straight and briskly as possible – around the ward each day, I have been caring for people who are terribly unwell.  Most people receiving treatment for cancer are seen as day patients.  Only those who suffer severe side effects from their treatments that cannot be managed at home, or those for whom the treatments are no longer working and their poor bodies are simply breaking down, make their way onto the ward.

I have held the hand of a patient who received very sad news on her birthday.  I have cared for a patient (and his family) who died too soon.  I have prepared the body of another patient for the morgue.  I have cleaned up all manner of bodily fluids whilst reassuring the patient beside me that it is no bother at all.  I have managed to find 10 minutes here and there to sit with patients and listen to their stories who have no family to visit them.  I have given countless antibiotics, anti-virals, anti-fungals, platelet infusions, potassium, magnesium, and ever so gently washed and patted dry frail, frail bodies …. my goodness, chemotherapy is so very harsh on the body.

And that back pain of mine – well, it’s as if it has been given to me to keep my feet firmly planted in reality.  To remind me that what seems awful to me can always be put into a much bigger picture.  One in which life is so very treasured and fragile.

Today – thank goodness – I think that spasm in my back is finally breaking up.  Now, it’s just tired, not screeching in pain.  And this morning for the first time since “the washing basket moment” the fog of discomfort has lifted and I am able to look around me with clear and refreshed eyes.

The rain is pouring down.  The sunflowers smothering my bedroom window are delighted.  I stitched Abby’s Christmas pillowcase and crocheted a wee Christmas rose for a dear, dear patient.  We turned the fairy lights on early. My uniform is ironed.  My supper is packed.

It’s time to head off.

sunflowers fairy lights

full days indeed

7 thoughts on “full days indeed

  • December 4, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    How lucky these patients are to have you caring for them, Lily. I worked as a nurse’s assistant for a few years in an Assisted Living and Rehabilitation center and I know how much a good and kind nurse can mean to the morale of the patients. I hope that, if I am ever in need, my nurse will be as dedicated and thoughtful as you.
    So glad you have a loving family at home to greet you after a long (and painful) day.
    Take care,

  • December 4, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’(AB)
    This scripture came to mind as I read your writings today dear Lily. So glad to hear your back is healing.
    Blessings Gail.

  • December 5, 2013 at 2:17 am

    Thank you for sharing this post, Lily. I have recently accepted a position as a hospital chaplain and know I will be meeting those same kinds of patients. I am glad you are feeling better at last.

  • December 5, 2013 at 10:57 am

    There is nothing like being with someone who is truly ill to put your own things in perspective.

    I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have care for me than a nurse like you with such a sensitive heart.

    I hope your back eases soon–I had a similar thing once and wearing one of those elastic belts under my clothes to support it helped a little but it was just exhausting to work every day. Glad your little family is seeing you through this.

  • December 5, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Dear Lily,
    I have read your blog for ages and have never commented…shame on me for not doing that.
    You are an inspiration, a person whom I would kill to have by my side.
    You are “one of a kind” and I do hope your back is better and that all is well. I have had major back problems off and on, so you do have my complete sympathy.
    I am in awe of all that you create…….and especially your heart of goodness.
    Be well and know that there is a stranger out here who respects so much all that you do.
    xo, E.

  • December 6, 2013 at 8:40 am

    Oh Lily… full days indeed. Pain is pain though, a back injury and the pain you can experience is still real. I felt all the pain and all your panic about your placement as I read your post. I struggled through a prac placement in a similar way one semester, the dread of failing the whole thing and having to front up again next round and delay graduation…. aaagh, just too much. You have a special gift of empathy and you so often bring me back to earth at times I am at risk of spinning off (I have been about to launch, well wrapped in a bit of personal misery that needed some perspective). Thank you and I hope you are feeling better, it is just so exhausting to be in pain. Bless your lovely family for looking after you!

  • December 13, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Oh Lili…I honestly feel your pain. In 2004, SO close to finishing my schooling to become a nurse, I picked up an EMPTY laundry basket. Pain seared through me…I could harldy walk for days. My instructors told me to take the semester off…I could not. I knew it would be a year before I would be able to commence with the next class in the final semester. I painfully soldiered on. Since that time, I healed…then injured again. I have had three surgeries on my back…I continue to work, although lately, I have had a troublesome amount of pain in my leg, accompanied by ALOT of swelling..I am becoming tired of it all…worn out…Then, I visit you here…and I am reminded that there are so many worse off..I LOVE my job as a nurse. My husband told me today, he sees me at my best returning from 12 hour shifts…happy…I wish you well..sweet Lili! You are an inspiration on SO many levels to me…XXXOOO

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