November 1, 2011

"Hearts are amazing personalities:" Of Nurses, Hearts, and Healing


As I have mentioned in passing, the middle and end part of last month was marked, at least for me, by my heart stopping dead and then being restarted by a series of brilliant and wonderful people. For the time it was stopped I was, as they say, dead.

What that means I have, so far, little to say and a lot to learn. And the learning -- since this process is not a “cure, but a “recovery” -- is something that takes a lot of time, comes slowly, almost as slowly as I now walk to the corner store. What once took me a minute now takes three to five. That’s neither good nor bad, but just the way it is when you are returned to life.

In the few moments that I’m at my peak I am learning, still slowly, what happened and what I can expect. In this I am aided by a host of friends and relatives so numerous that I am amazed to find myself at the center of such a cloud of caring. I asked what I ever did to deserve friends and family like this and I learn that deserve has nothing to do with it; this is just how many people are made.

One of these people is a cousin in the Southwest who has spent decades as a trauma and cardiac nurse. Yesterday she mailed me some of her thoughts about lives and hearts and nursing learned across the decades. There’s no improving on them. Presented here for your perusal:

”I was touched when you talked about nurses, how they go to work and save lives... well sort of.  I can tell you from now decades of being a nurse/paramedic/healthcare person, that we are really just technicians.  We learn the steps to take, the drugs to give, the rhythms that are the story of a heart getting better.

”What sets a lot of us apart is that we really CARE about the person in the bed, on the exam table, walking down the hall with the IV's swinging.  And with the caring, there is some intangible part of that nurse that connects with the essence of the patient. It's a will to live that is found within the patient, and really good nurses know how to appeal to that will to coax it out.  But the healing is something that comes from within. I was continually amazed to see who was able to live through the ICU or ER experience, and who wasn't.    We nurses can guide the energy, show it how to move again, take away some of the pain, but the healing is the Work the patient must do.

”Hearts are amazing personalities.  I've seen many during heart surgeries -moving around in a chest under bright lights while surrounded by blue drapes as if they were actors on a stage.  They resembled little animals that wanted to scurry around on their own.  They are very selfish too, giving themselves oxygenated blood before the rest of the body can have any.  And they are at the center of our being. "Into the Silence" is a wonderful piece - your descriptions resonate with what I know about that space between being and not being.  And for healing, one needs to start at that place.

”In the true healing, there is a necessary letting go, something that is not always easy to do.  The obvious losses will be Lady T and all her smoke, some lifestyle changes, but there will be less obvious letting go - of the way you used to define yourself, a letting go of impatience with healing as Mr. Heart will let you know if you go too fast. The healing takes time. It's a different sort of work than you've ever had to do.  It's getting to the core of you and finding the  acceptance of a body that is different from what you've had these last decades, acceptance of a different routine for everyday life.”

Posted by Vanderleun at November 1, 2011 1:02 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Don Henley
"My Thanksgiving"

A lot of things have happened
Since the last time we spoke
Some of them are funny
Some of 'em ain't no joke
And I trust you will forgive me
If I lay it on the line
I always thought you were a friend of mine

Sometimes I think about you
I wonder how you're doing now
And what you're going through

The last time I saw you
We were playing with fire
We were loaded with passion
And a burning desire
For every breath, for every day of living
And this is my Thanksgiving

Now the trouble with you and me, my friend
Is the trouble with this nation
Too many blessings, too little appreciation
And I know that kind of notion-well, it just ain't cool
So send me back to Sunday school
Because I'm tired of waiting for reason to arrive
It's too long we've been living
These unexamined lives

I've got great expectations
I've got family and friends
I've got satisfying work
I've got a back that bends
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

Have you noticed that an angry man
Can only get so far
Until he reconciles the way he thinks things ought to be
With the way things are

Here in this fragmented world, I still believe
In learning how to give love, and how to receive it
And I would not be among those who abuse this privilege
Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge

And I don't mind saying that I still love it all
I wallowed in the springtime
Now I'm welcoming the fall
For every moment of joy
Every hour of fear
For every winding road that brought me here
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

For everyone who helped me start
And for everything that broke my heart
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

Posted by: tim at November 1, 2011 1:52 PM

Completely agree with her definition of true healing. As one who experienced a catastrophic health event, my body would always tell me when I pushed too hard, but my brain was never satisfied with my progress. I had to finally accept my new normal. Nurses are the underpaid, under-appreciated heros in the health care system. The term nurse one back to health applies. Go slow but go on.

Posted by: Tom at November 1, 2011 1:55 PM

All I know is I am happy someone was there to make sure you are still here with us today. There were lots of prayers on your behalf being said around the world.

As one who had to suddenly adjust her whole world to compensate for a physical problem, the first thing I had to learn was to not think my life was over. Different yes. Less active, yes. You find out that those who love and care about you still do and who needs the rest?

Posted by: Sara (Pal2Pal) at November 1, 2011 4:16 PM

Tim, thanks for sharing that. Henley has a powerful talent for pealing things back to truth.

Gerard, congrats on dodging the reaper. God clearly is not done with you yet. If you've never read, or watched, Porterhouse Blue, and can handle the laugh, now might be a good time.

Posted by: Casca at November 1, 2011 4:28 PM

On the bright side, your body doesn't stop healing just because the rest of you is asleep or lazing around.

Posted by: Maureen at November 1, 2011 4:47 PM

I just stopped by to make sure you're being good--and I see that you are.

So, carry on. I never understood how you did it all, even last year and the year before. I understand it even less these days.

But "it is marvelous in our eyes."

Posted by: McCann/LMA at November 1, 2011 5:13 PM

My father had what should have been a fatal heart-attack 20 years ago. I could write VOLUMES on how drastically different my life would have been had I lost him. Volumes. He had to change his life drastically and in every way. He had to be closely intuned to what his body was telling him, he had to commit to physical therapy, change his eating and resting habits. I don't know why he was willing to do it so thoroughly except that he must have understood how badly he'd be missed if he didn't. He'd have missed walking 2 of his daughters down the isle, never met 3 of his 5 grandchildren and would not have been by my mother's side when she passed. I don't know what motived him but he's always been my hero and my inspiration.

I'm so glad you've shared this experience with us because we really take such things for granted. I hope you will keep us informed and inspired but I also wish there were more we readers could do!

American Digest has kept me SANE these last few years, not to mention entertained, challenged, vented... It has been educational, uplifting, amusing. You are needed!

Take your time healing, changing, accepting. You've certainly helped me do these in spite of moments these last couple of years I believed my heart would stop dead. I'm sure I speak for other readers regarding that sentiment.

Besides, the countdown to November 2012 has just begun and you do NOT want to miss election night or the sight of the Obama's leaving the White House in 2013. Well worth following doctor's orders!

Posted by: RedCarolina at November 1, 2011 8:23 PM

Very glad to hear you're recovering. We should have dinner again soon. Let me know if you need anything. Really.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at November 1, 2011 10:32 PM

*aisle - would have been better off had it been an isle. haha. Take good care of that heart of yours!

Posted by: RedCarolina at November 1, 2011 10:37 PM

I'm glad you are still here, Gerard.

...and I'm just a 'thought' on the internet!

Posted by: Cond0010 at November 1, 2011 10:55 PM

Not only in their crucial roles in Trauma care and ICUs and on the frontlines of ERs are nurses special, but in the mundane, day-to-day encounters with people, sick and difficult, or in pain or just following up.

I worked in a Pain Clinic for about 10 yrs in an administrative position and was amazed that on a daily basis, the nurses took patients back to exam rooms and made small talk with patients every day, but not only that, they connected, they genuinely cared, formed bonds and friendships, advocated for them.

I used to think: Could I do that? Could I have a lousy day or personal problems and greet and treat each patient with their problems? I think not. It takes a really special person, which most nurses are.

Posted by: Insomniac at November 2, 2011 2:23 AM

You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart
These, O God, You will not despise.

Psalm 51:16-17)

Beautiful and encouraging words to think about as you let God be the real Healer with the help of nurses and others He brings along your way.... one day. one short walk, one piece of bread at a time. The idea is never to get back to your old self, but rather to let all things be made new.

Posted by: Webutante at November 2, 2011 5:05 AM

I'm sure I speak for thousands when I say "Glad you're still here, man. I'd have missed you something fierce."

Posted by: Kevin Baker at November 2, 2011 7:48 PM

So glad you are okay, G. Had a heart attack myself two months ago, and while I did not need resucitation, I was certainly an introspective little fucker for a few hours.

Welcome back.

Posted by: Velociman at November 3, 2011 10:22 AM

Well, having had my chest cracked and heart paddled back to life too during a 'detour' in a seemingly routine valve surgery, I value your words - especially regarding nurses. I had a couple angels, some other kind and able souls, and one who clearly erred in career path. You're one of the lucky ones, having been granted a push of the big red reset button. Reboot slowly and please don't go away again, ok? You're too vital.

Posted by: robinstarfish at November 3, 2011 11:41 AM