I’ve been frustrated with myself for not knowing what to write during this time when all I have is time. The first thing I wrote was sad and dreary and maybe one day I’ll share it when times are better. But today I decided to share one of my favorite nurse stories from my illness, to celebrate the gown-and-masked heroes on the front lines!
My last chemotherapy was in late October 2009 and a week later—as was my custom—I landed back in the hospital with a fever. The fevers guaranteed me at least three nights in the hospital, and I’d come to just plan on them as part of my treatment schedule.
I’d schlepped and slept through the two full days of my stay and was looking at what would hopefully be my VERY last night in the hospital for the ENTIRE TEN MONTH PROCESS!
I’d been preparing for this day for weeks: crossing squares out on calendars, making a concerted effort to be nicer to everyone (even though my final treatment had begun with a botched port-access that left me stabbed and bleeding from the right boob—I clenched my teeth and powered through). I came prepared for Ifosfamide with a tube of Icebreakers Ice Cube gum, because the first 10 minutes of each drip tasted like gasoline and pennies.
My only true “lash-out” had been at the hospital volunteer who’d woken me up three times on Halloween morning to ask me if I wanted to trick-or-treat around the hospital with the children. In my defense, I was 18 GD years old, and had already politely declined TWICE.
But finally I’d landed at my last night in the hospital, and I’d been assigned one of my favorite nurses: Nurse Detria! She was the first nurse I remembered from my very first chemo—I’d woken up on Christmas morning to find her arranging presents for me and my sister at the bottom of the bed. She was wearing a Barbie shirt, and my mom asked her if her name was Barbie.
“Nope. I just like Barbie!”
Bitch, I like Barbie, too!!!! I was sold.
Having her as my last overnight nurse was like truly coming full circle.
I decided I wanted the night to go by as quickly and painlessly as possible, and what better way to do that than to just go the f**k to sleep!?
The only thing standing between me and a deep sleep was a cocktail of 6-8 pills. They sat in a tiny paper cup at the foot of my bed. My mom quietly read a book in the corner of the room, and Detria (Dee, as we’d called her) had checked my vitals just a few minutes ago and had gone to do her other busy Nurse things.
Left to my own devices, I decided that the best thing to do was to just throwback the entire cup of pills all at once. It’d be like knocking back the whole pack of Tic-Tacs in one gulp…right?
I tossed back the cup of pills, took a big-ass swig of Snapple, and pressed the recline button on the bed.
I made it about three minutes before my body began to violently betray me.
And lemme tell you…those pills came back up practically whole. My mom leapt up from her book, shocked and confused. She lunged for the pink hospital tub on the counter and brought it over to the bed, doing the best the could to keep her face away from the action as she held it in front of my face.
It was a god.damn.mess. My body tensed and contorted like the Exorcism of Emily Rose, and I wretched and cried and threw up and screamed “WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME!?! WHY GOD??? WHY???” for at least fifteen minutes.
IT WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THIS! I kept thinking. IT WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THIS!
At some point during the drama, Detria came in to assist and help get things settled and clean, and when the war was over, she sent my mom to the cafeteria for a break while I rested from my ordeal.
After twenty minutes or so, she came back in to check on me.
Half-asleep, eyes still shut, I muttered, “yes, a lot better.”
“Good!” Detria cheered, placing a new cup of pills in front of me. “Then you can take these now.”
I could hear the shuffle of the pills in the cup as they hit the bed-tray. I opened my eyes just a sliver to check the level of seriousness in her face.
She was serious.
“Okay,” I managed, grumpily.
Detria smiled, heading back to the nurse’s stand. Before she closed my door, she peeked back in to order, “And PACE yourself, Miss.”
Over the next 30 minutes, I did pace myself. I took my pills bit by bit, as “Failure to Launch” tortured me from the hospital TV above the bed. Torture.
My pills all gone, I reclined the bed again, and nodded back off. Finally, some peace.
I couldn’t have been asleep long before Detria came in to make sure I’d taken my pills.
“Good girl,” she said.
I said nothing, just lay on my back, arm bent above my head martyr-style, eyes closed. “You get some rest now,” she continued. And then, “you brushed your teeth, right?”
I smiled, sheepishly. A definite no.
“You just threw your guts up and ya aren’t gonna even brush your teeth? Girl, where is your toothbrush, I don’t see it in this bathroom.”
“Jesse. Where is it.”
“…it’s still packed…”
Her eyes got all squinty.
“Do you mean to tell me you’ve been here three days and haven’t brushed your teeth?”
I smiled again.
“Get up. Now. And tell me where the toothbrush is.”
Sighing my biggest, most dramatic sigh possible, I pushed myself up. I reached over to unplug my pump, hoping she saw how far away from me it was, and how painstakingly difficult it was to reach it.
I stood in front of the bed and she handed me the baggy with my toothbrush and toothpaste.
“Alright. Now roll yourself into that bathroom and brush your teeth, Missy. I’m going to check on something but I’m coming back and I’m gonna smell your breath and if it still smells like puke and pills I’m not gonna be happy.”
I did as I was told, as quickly as possible, and then rolled myself back to the bed.
Once I’d plugged myself back in and gotten comfortable, Detria was back.
As promised, she sniffed my breath, and I passed inspection.
“Alright,” she conceded. “And I’m sure you did your Peridex rinse, too.”
Ahh, Peridex. One of my many nemeses. A very powerful, bacteria-killing mouthwash used to prevent mouth sores after chemo, I had rejected Peridex from day one because “it tastes like as***le.”
I don’t know why I cannot tell a lie. And I don’t know what possessed me to respond so honestly, but I hated Peridex so much, I suppose I just couldn’t hold back.
“Dee. I never do my Peridex rinse.”
Dee’s eyebrows shot high up on her forehead.
“I don’t have it here! I don’t even take it with me, Dee!” I was half-laughing, knowing there was no Peridex to be found in this room.
“Well…aren’t you lucky to be here in the hospital where I can procure some for you!”
“…seriously?” I sassed, in my best sassy teenager sass.
“Unplug that pump, Miss, and I’ll meet you back in the bathroom.”
I groaned and pouted, desperate for sleep. “Can’t I just do the rinse from bed and spit it in a cup?”
She had to see how tired I was…how desperate I was to not be awake…how exhausted my body was from my violent pill battle…right?
“Your legs work just fine.”
Detria came back with the Peridex, and fluffed my pillow while I rinsed. When I finished, she helped me back into bed, and plugged in my pump for me so I didn’t have to reach so far.
“Thank you, Dee,” I said. My thanks surprised even me. She had driven me crazy for the last hour, forced me to care for myself, and take my pills and brush my teeth and do my nasty rinse and walk on my weak legs. But on this night, this last night in the hospital, it was clearer than ever: she didn’t do all these things because it was her job. I mean, sure, it was.
But it was obvious that more than anything she did it out of genuine care and love. All of them did, these nurses, this family, or else why would they do it? Why would they subject themselves to the sadness? To the bald kids crying and the babies dying, and the cranky teenagers swearing and lashing out?
Nurse Detria pulled the covers up over my shoulders and gave me a kiss on the top of the head.
PS: THANK YOU TO ALL MY AMAZING NURSES FROM YESTER-YEAR: Brooke, Brian, Melissa, Maria, Deb, Sandy, Dawn, Lilia, Jeanette, Sharon, Anne, Tara, Rachel, Aubrey, and EVERYONE I MISSED ❤