May 8, 2014

Miracles (Memoirs of a Cancer Nurse)

I believe in miracles.
I have a testimony of a Savior who walked on water, healed the sick, rose the dead, and caused the blind to see, and I knew that if He performed those miracles 2000 years ago on the other side of the world, He could certainly perform miracles for my patients on P-12 at MD Anderson Cancer Center.  Most of my patients were very, very sick and a great deal of them were still young and raising families of their own.  They had so much to live for and were out of conventional treatment options so they came to us hoping for a miracle.  
And not only did I hope for miracles for them, but I think I somehow expected to see patient after patient be cured of their cancer and return to full health.  If my patients had enough faith--if I had enough faith--wouldn't God grant my patients this worthy and righteous desire?

I had been working on the floor for a few months and finally started to feel like I had "the hang" of this oncology nursing thing.  I was familiar with a variety of cancers, chemotherapies, and treatments.  I knew what to expect out of my day if my assignment included a patient with neutropenic fever or a patient with inflammatory breast cancer who had pleural effusions.  I had not seen any "miracles" as of yet, but I remember one week having two patients who along with their families were definitely expecting miracles and I felt a tremendous burden of somehow helping make those miracles happen as their nurse......

One of my patients was Mr. T, one of our young colon cancer "regulars" who flew into Houston every month for a week-long hospital stay while he received intrahepatic chemotherapy.  He was a nice man with the sweetest wife and together they had two young children waiting for them at home.  He had been receiving this clinical trial chemotherapy for awhile but the cancer continued to slowly spread.  They needed a miracle.  

My second patient was a young, 24 year old Hispanic man who I hadn't seen on our floor before.  He had been diagnosed 10 months prior with a rare form of adrenal cancer and had been admitted to our floor for pain management.  Although taller than me, he only weighed 80 pounds and just the act of gently adjusting his position in bed and placing pillows under his bony elbows caused him excruciating pain.  It was so hard to see.  His mother was by his side all the time and never left during the 3 days I cared for him.  She was a sweet Mexican woman and devout Catholic, and though we didn't share the same religion, we bonded over our similar spiritual convictions.  She showed me a picture of what her son had looked like less than a year before when he was diagnosed.  He had been an incredibly handsome young man, and now he was so emaciated that he was virtually unrecognizable from the man in the picture by his bed.  There was no fat and very little muscle left on his fragile body, but his mother reassured me multiple times over the course of the next few days that God could still perform a miracle and cure her son.  Though a person of faith, I cringed every time that she said this.  Her dear son was so ill and his condition deteriorating so fast, I knew that he was just too sick to recover from this.  
By the third day of caring for this young man, it was apparent that he had very little time left in mortality.  His room was filled with family members and I spent the day making sure he stayed as comfortable as possible and allowing the family as much time with him to say their goodbyes in a peaceful environment.  Throughout the morning I watched the heart monitor record his slowly dropping heart rate, and when it dropped below 50 beats per minute and began alarming, I got the okay to turn the monitors off.  With tears in her eyes, his mother looked at me and repeated, "Christ can still perform a miracle." 
Sometime in the early afternoon while I was in another patient's room, a CNA came in and said, "I think you better go into room #___."  I quickly washed my hands and went back into this young man's room where his mother was holding his hand. When I entered the room she looked at me desperately.  I couldn't see his chest rise.  He was not breathing.  I listened and felt for a heart beat for a full minute but found none.  I finally looked up at his mother, squeaked out the words, "I am so sorry" and the whole room erupted into sobs.  I quickly excused myself to go notify the doctor and have an emotional breakdown of my own at the nurse's station.  I could barely carry out my duties over the next few hours.  I had 3 other patients, one of them being my sweet Mr. T who needed a lot of care and attention to keep his own pain under control, but it was difficult just to contain my emotions over my young patient passing away.  After several hours, all of his family members began to slowly leave the room and myself and another nurse went to clean his body and prepare him to go to the funeral home.    We then let his mother back in to his room to say goodbye to him before his body was taken away.  I was standing outside of the room when his mother came out for the last time and looked at me.  I broke down again and gave her a hug. "I'm so sorry.  I'm so sorry he didn't get his miracle," I cried.  
She backed up and looked at me and through her tears smiled, "Oh, but he did!  Hija, he was surrounded by loving family and peacefully went into the arms of his Savior, and because of the Savior my son will be whole and live again.  That is a miracle!"  She then walked hand-in-hand with her daughter off the floor and I never saw her again. 

I returned to caring for Mr. T, who would spend six more months returning to us for treatments, then finally only coming to us for pain and symptom management.  Every nurse knew he and his wife, took turns caring for him, and loved them both dearly, all hoping for their family to find that miracle cure for their husband and daddy.  
I took a few days off in June for my birthday and spent a wonderful weekend at Moody Gardens with my husband in Galveston.  I returned from my mini vacation refreshed.  Before my first shift back and while putting my lunch in the refrigerator in the break room, I glanced at the bulletin board and noticed three new obituaries--all of them patients we cared for and knew well, all patients that I dearly loved, all passed away on my birthday, one of them was Mr. T. 
 I spent my day a little bitter and upset about the news of these three losses, and while eating my lunch in the break room that day, I made mention to one of my co-workers how sad I was over Mr T's passing.  "I just wish we could see more happy endings and miracles, you know?" I stated.  My co-worker--who is awesome--replied, "Yeah, but Mr. T had been coming to us for 2 years.  His life was extended for several extra years because of the treatment we gave him and this last Christmas he was well enough and able to take their family on their dream vacation to DisneyWorld.  That had been his goal since he first started coming to us, and he was able to do it!  That's kind of a miracle."

Leave it to this co-worker to remind me that though we may not always get the miracles we want, that the Lord still performs other miracles in our lives every day--the miracle of having your health stabilized enough to go on one last, really fun family vacation with your children that you would not have been able to go on otherwise, and the miracle of extra time to watch your children grow and give them memories and experiences.

Leave it to my young patient's grieving mother to remind me that though we may not get the miracle we so desperately want, we will--no matter what--get the greatest miracle of all......We will be made whole.  We will be free from pain and suffering.  We will live again.
Because a loving Heavenly Father sent His Son Jesus Christ to live, die, and resurrect.....for us.  
All other miracles--even the miracle of a sudden cure--would be meaningless and obsolete without that greatest of miracles.  

I don't understand why certain things happen.  I don't know why mothers are forced to raise their children on their own, why children have to lose their fathers, why mothers have to watch their sons suffer so much and then watch as they take their last breath.  I don't know why we can't always have the miracles  we want, especially when we have a seemingly perfect faith that they can and WILL happen.
So why don't we get them?
I don't know.
So I trust that He does know, and that He knows what He is doing.
And then I remember how grateful I am for my testimony that no matter what, the ultimate miracle has already occurred and is available to every last one of us.  

1 comment:

Taffy and Tony said...

Holly, I love this post! I needed this reminder right now. I have a friend (one of the volleyball coaches on our staff) that has just been diagnosed with cancer. They know it is in at least 2 areas (kidney and lymph system) but don't know how far it has spread beyond that. I have been in tears about her situation so many times--so scared for her, especially in her situation as a young single mother of two boys. I pray every day for a miracle for her. Thanks for reminding me of the miracle that has already occurred.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...