the hospital

Last night I dreamed that I sat down with my father to record his life history. In my dream, he was seated in a wheelchair, but he was full of energy and smiles, like he was before the event that started his neurologic decline. His face no longer drooped on the left, but instead, was perfectly symmetric. His hazel eyes sparkled when he smiled and joked with me, the way he once used to. In my dream, he was going to tell me everything about his past, and I planned to write every word of it down. I carried a black pen and a blank notebook filled with white, college-ruled paper, ready to be filled with my father’s story.

But in my dream, we kept getting interrupted. Each time I sat next to him, ready to write, someone intervened and pulled my attention away from him. I never was able to write a word.

And then I woke up.

Today, my father is lying in a hospital bed and he’s unable to speak to us. He cannot move the left side of his body. He cannot swallow the secretions that pool in his throat, and when he coughs, he sounds as if he is choking. He does not open his eyes to look at me, and he will not wake up.

He had a large stroke yesterday, or maybe even the night before. I keep trying to pinpoint when it happened. When exactly did his heart flick off a clot that traveled in an instant to his right middle cerebral artery? Was it when I was sitting at his bedside in the emergency room, in that uncomfortable folding chair, thinking he was just sleepy from the Ativan he was given? Was it shortly after I went home that night? Or was it first thing Friday morning, while I was heading to clinic? I realize it doesn’t matter when it happened. What matters is that it happened, and that he will not recover.

I regret not seeing him one last time while he could speak to me. His last words to me on Thursday night were, “Do they think this is serious?” I want to remember different words.

I regret not canceling my clinic duties yesterday morning. If I had been there, maybe his stroke would have been recognized sooner. [I know that it wouldn’t have mattered, but I can’t help but regret this.]

I regret not ever taking the time to sit with my father, when he was fully himself, and writing down his story. Because when he is gone, I would have had  the physical reality of his story to cling to, rather than just my imperfect memories.


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15 Responses to “the nurse”

  1. 1
    Gail — October 3, 2014 @ 10:46 am

    This is just one of the reasons why I love you. xoxoxo

  2. 2
    Maria Raynal — October 3, 2014 @ 11:22 am

    Me too. That inevitable intersection where life, death, hope and heartbreak collide … it sneaks up on us in so many ways.

  3. 3
    Cookin Canuck — October 3, 2014 @ 11:30 am

    You took me by surprise with this, MJ, and I’m having difficulties fighting back the tears. Thank you for sharing your emotions in such a raw, honest way. I can imagine that your own experiences make you even better at your job. That man is very lucky to have you as his doctor.

  4. 4
    Carolyn — October 3, 2014 @ 11:40 am

    I was going to say pretty much exactly what Dara said — about the tears, the honesty, the way that living your life fully can only make you better and better at your job. Instead I”ll just say: you’re wonderful. xx

  5. 5
    Paula — October 3, 2014 @ 11:42 am

    For many, it is hard to put words to our grief. I have so much respect and admiration for you and for your ability to finds words that so eloquently and meaningfully convey what you are feeling. Your writing is intensely beautiful, much like your spirit I’m sure.

  6. 6
    Susan - ofeverymoment — October 3, 2014 @ 11:53 am

    As a nurse, it warms my heart to read of such compassion by a person in my profession. As a caregiver who has lost a special person when being cared for in a hospital, I understand how hard it was for you to enter that IMC.
    Your father’s illness gave you insight that cannot be learned in medical school, and it is his legacy to all your patients. Thank you for writing this beautiful piece.

  7. 7
    Sabrina Modelle — October 3, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    You are pretty freaking amazing. That is all.

  8. 8
    Liz Larkin — October 3, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

    I love your writing, MJ. it’s heartfelt, and true, and so lovely.

  9. 9
    Janis — October 3, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

    you are such a good writer.

  10. 10
    Mimi — October 3, 2014 @ 6:38 pm

    I just wish there were more female doctors. A beautiful post.

  11. 11
    cherie — October 3, 2014 @ 6:57 pm

    You are so compassionate because you are so aware of your OWN feelings. No matter the outcome, you are a blessing to your patients. I am very grateful to know there are doctors like you in the world.

    I’m typing through tears, wishing I could give you a hug myself. Yet another reminder that everyone is struggling.

  12. 12
    Liz @ The Lemon Bowl — October 3, 2014 @ 9:29 pm

    Youe strength and vulnerability is such an inspiration. Xoxo

  13. 13
    Rachel — October 5, 2014 @ 8:00 am

    You are incredible. Patients are lucky to have you as their physician.
    Know this was hard.

  14. 14
    Laura — October 8, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

    So heartfelt. Beautiful. Thank you.

  15. 15
    Mallory+@forkvsspoon — October 14, 2014 @ 10:32 am

    You are amazing. I have no other words. This post, like so many others of yours, has left me in awe. Thank you for being so vulnerable.

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