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.