Saturday, September 11, 2010

contagious love

i had been his nurse before, but it was nothing like this. he was plagued by end stage HIV and had also contracted scabies. he had no where to go but the hospital. i tried to prepare myself to care for him as i knew he was not in good condition. i quickly applied my foot and leg covers, gown, cap, mask, and gloves before i could walk into his room. when i stepped through the door i was overcome as i saw his frail body, which couldn't have weighed more than 100 pounds. his legs were stiffly hanging off the bed, his arms were crossed up over his chest and he was shaking with his glazed over eyes rolling back into his head. pieces of his cracked, bleeding skin were sloughed off, covering his bed and floor. the cracks that covered his entire body were so deep they were bleeding and every inch of his skin was so dry and rough it would simply fall off if he itched it. behind his left shoulder his skin had become so raw it was bleeding out, the entirety of his bed was soaked through with blood. his whole shoulder was covered with clots and it was so raw his gown and sheets were literally embedded into his skin.

i looked into his eyes as i bent over to talk to him. "i need to know what's wrong. i need you to tell me what i can do for you..." i repeated over and over with no response. he had not been talking to anybody, maybe a yes or no from time to time. i put my hand on his and he immediately grabbed it and held on. i continued to ask him what i could do for him and that i would not leave him this way. he started to mumble a few indiscernible words. his voice was so frail and weak i could hardly make out a word. "are you in pain?" he nodded that he was in pain. i assured him i would be back, quickly removed my protective gear and ran out the door. he had no IV access due to the condition of his skin so all i could get him was a Lortab. i hastily reapplied my "personal protective equipment" and re-entered the room. he swallowed the Lortab; it was a matter of time before it would help.

i tried to pick his legs up and put them back up on the bed. he was so stiff and unable to move i could barely lift them the two feet up without him moaning or the legs just not budging. i got his legs up to the very side of the bed since he was so far over. he looked uncomfortable in every way. i did not even attempt scootching him over the bed, knowing the pain it would cause him and knowing that i could not do it alone. once again i leaned down to be next to him. i saw pain and loneliness in his eyes. i put my hand by his and he immediately held onto it and i held back. i once again asked him what i could do in a desperate effort to help. he would speak but i could not make it out. his voice had no strength. he would muster up his voice and speak a little bit louder and more clear so i could understand. "i need you to talk to me. i need to tell me what i can do for you. please tell me what's wrong..." i finally understood what he was trying to tell me.

"love" was all that he said.

by this time my hands were shaking, my heart was racing and my eyes filled up with tears.

"love?" was all i could say. i told him that God loved him. i told him that he was a son of Heavenly Father who loved him.

he tried to tell me about how his family wouldn't take him. he tried to tell me how he'd never been in a situation like this before. i tried to comfort him and love him. i held his hand and looked into his eyes with tears in mine. all he could see was my eyes as i looked something like this.

i was still leaned over by his side, searching for the right words to say. he began to lift up his arms and slowly moved them towards my face. i was surprised and backed up a little bit. i came back to him and asked him what he wanted. he said "take off your mask, show me your face." i backed up and pulled my mask down so he could see my face. i just stood there with my face exposed, staring at him as he stared back. i couldn't hide any of the emotions i felt. helpless that i could not do more and broken-hearted for this man and the fate of his life. i felt a love for him that i could never explain, almost a feeling of responsibility. i wanted to help him but i knew i could only do so much. i wanted him to know that he was loved. i wanted him to know that Heavenly Father did love him and have a plan for him and that when he passed on his pain would be over and he would be happier. i wanted him to know that i loved him, that at that moment i truly loved him.

i pulled my mask back over my face, grabbed his hand, and told him i would be back. i stumbled to the door where i again removed my gear. as i came out of his room and i staggered my way into the bathroom. as i washed my hands i lost all composure and began to weep. i stood in the bathroom and just cried, thinking about this man and all the unexplainable feelings i felt. how unjust and completely wrong it seemed. i dabbed my face with some foundation and wiped my eyes, again trying to gain my repose.

i tried to take care of my other seven patients and catch up on some charting until my nursing supervisor came around. he had told me he wanted something to eat, which was a step in the right direction since he hadn't been eating. i was telling her about his situation and she came in the room with me. we had to change the bed and sheets as i couldn't do it by myself. he agreed to let us change the bed, which he hadn't before. it was obviously painful for him, prying the sheets and his gown off of his open skin. he would yell out when we had to turn him, but he let us. we changed the sheets and the bed, trying to get him a little bit more comfortable. as we were turning him, he looked over at me and said "i love you." i told him that i loved him too and was just glad that we could help a little bit. we got him set up in bed, eating his food and watching VH1. he looked better. he looked more alive.

i cried again to dan later that night, feeling so sorry and helpless to no avail. dan listened and gave me some ice cream [which helped]. i was just imaging trying to take care of him again tonight, knowing i could not give him the attention he needed, and wondering how i would handle it emotionally. i had been having such a hard time because all the nurses were gossiping about him and talking about how hard is was for them to take care of him, how he brought everything he has upon himself and that he deserves it. i have seen over time after they took care of him they gained a little more compassion. it was so hard for me to hear those comments after that night and imagine how he would be taken care of during the day.

times like this further my appreciation of life, my belief that we can not judge anybody, regardless of any reason we think we can. we do not know what has happened in their life. many times it is a lot different that what he had thought, and we would be ashamed of ourselves if we really knew. we are to care, to love, to support, to try to help in any way we can.

i know for those few moments i was where i needed to be. he needed me there and i needed to have that experience that i could never, ever forget.