The graveyard shift is not for the living. When my clock said it was midnight I swung one leg over the side of my hospital bed. This put pressure on my catheter. I quickly dragged the second leg over the side. I stood. Someone had clipped my catheter hose to the front of my hospital gown. It was the largest size of gown–way too big for me. I unsnapped the arm closings and tied the sleeves to get them out of my way. I unhooked my catheter bag from the side of the bed and attached it to my I.V. pole. Then I stood like a toddler with a new skill. I reached over toward the wall and unplugged the I.V. pole from the wall. I hung the loose electrical cord on the infusion machine portion of the I.V. pole. My white socks were long gone. I padded toward the bathroom, dragging my equipment alongside me.
A half hour later I made the return trip. It was painful to climb back into bed. At one point, I was on my back dragging my body up to the top of the bed. I looked out into the darkened hallway and was surprised to meet the eyes of Nurse E2. She had watched without offering any assistance. “You need to learn how to do things for yourself,” she said.
“What do you know?” I said it softly, sarcastically.
Later that night, Nurse E2 and I tangled over my morphine. I could have it every four hours. It barely took the edge off of my pain. We disagreed over how long four hours were. I marked the time on my hospital room clock, which was wrong. I have no idea what manner of time mechanism she used. I waited six hours for morphine. I was ready to chew off a leg and crawl away. When I told Nurse E2 that my pain meds were overdue she said my last dose was three hours ago. I pointed to the clock and said, “My last dose was when it said it was one. It now says it is five.”
“That clock is wrong,” she said.
“But four hours are still four hours,” I said.
She shook her head. “Not on that clock. You’re getting too dependent on pain meds.”
I had to white knuckle it until Nurse O came in and checked the records. Merry Christmas.
My family and many of my friends called me that day. I had been prepared to spend the day alone even before I went to the hospital. I was not expecting the calls. They got me through a tough day. However, I was a little too vocal about my experiences with Nurse E. That night I asked him to change my I.V. line because I had hurt my wrist dragging myself up into the bed. As he taped the port into place, he said, “Now don’t be telling your friends I didn’t know what to do.”
I pushed my luck. “Could you find me some petroleum jelly? My lips are cracking. I’ve been putting Country Crock on them, but it’s not helping.”
He left, returned, and said there was none to be found. Bah humbug!
That night something happened on my floor that made the rest of the night very uncomfortable. A patient started yelling at nurses. They yelled at him. Then they started yelling at each other. Even though I felt severe pain I waited for Nurse E2 to come with pain meds, rather than calling for her. The vibe on the floor was so negative I was afraid to attract attention to myself.
I suffered consistently more painful cramps in my urethra. The burnt flesh, now pierced by a catheter, clamped on the catheter spasmodically. The pain was frightening. I prayed incessantly. I clutched at the bed rails. I cried. I shook with chills. I dug my heels into the mattress until the soles of my feet cramped. I begged for help from my nurses. They dutifully ran to call a doctor to request more pain meds. Their efforts and my cries were unavailing.
My next nurse proved much more capable than most. Her voice was sunny like island music. Her eyes showed sympathy. She found me standing by my bed, afraid to climb in. “What’s wrong?”
I explained that, once I was in bed, I would have painful cramps and feel trapped in my bed.
“What hurts?” she asked.
I showed her the raw red skin on my hips and backside. I explained about my internal radiation injuries and their reaction with my catheter.
“Hold on,” she scurried off. She returned with a tube of paste that formed a barrier between wounds and the world. She spun me around and spread some of this paste on my raw skin. It felt cool. “How about getting into bed?” she asked.
“I’m afraid of the pain. Maybe I can walk through it.”
“No, no,” she responded. “Sorry about this,” she said. Then she spun me around and gently pushed me onto the edge of the bed. “Let me take care of you.” She tucked me into bed and used pillows to take the pressure off of my wounded flesh. She called the doctor for more pain meds and, when none were available for another hour, she requested a muscle relaxant.
It was the only night that I slept. The dreams were strange. I thought that I had been hijacked by aliens. At one point–in reality or in my dreams–I was begging to be left behind. That did not happen again. Pain remained my constant companion until my release.
A doctor came to take his own blood samples for identifying my infection. He did not usually do this to a person lying on her back in a bed. I ended up with blood in my hair and bedding. It was no big deal. I wanted the infection identified and cured so I could leave.
Dominique came to visit me. She brought me a comb and brush, lotion, and lip salve. I needed them. My hair had started to come out in tufts. It was filled with sweat and chemo salts. After several days of fevered suffering, my hair rose in Medusa-like, odd bumps and twists. Dominique was there long enough to observe me writhing through a long, painful set of spasms. Dominique had brought with her a bio feedback tool that she used on me during my cramps. I think it helped. I think her presence made the staff more responsive to my pain. The nurse set up an I.V. of potassium and magnesium to reduce cramping. After Dominique left, I slept for two hours. It was good to sleep.
The rest of the night was not nearly so restful. I suffered a bout of diarrhea that took my breath away. I was eating meals that were on a tray higher than my head. I ate mashed potatoes, applesauce, grits, anything that stayed in a spoon. I could not cut meat so did not eat it.
Nurse E2 let me know that I was wasteful of supplies like toilet paper. When I ran out of toilet paper, she brought me a handful and told me to “make it last.” I had a bloody nose every day. I had diarrhea. I cried. When I ran out of paper towels she brought me an unopened pack, left them atop the soiled clothes holder. They were out of reach. It was a nightmare.
I was tested by fire in so many ways and for so long that, not surprisingly, I went up in flames. I kept telling myself to be positive and grateful, but it was getting harder to do that.