As a child, I remember being afraid to fall in love, because I didn't want to experience the pain of losing people I loved when they died. I don't know why I thought about this; I only know that I did.
Becoming a nurse has done absolutely nothing to alleviate this fear, but life experience has, to some degree.
Nursing is hard not only because we are there for the dying, but also because we are there for the illnesses and deaths of our own, the people we love, too. Making a living by caring for the sick and dying does not exempt us from personal loss. We grieve and mourn like everyone else.
Recently, I sat in a chair in an ED, noticing the sparkly red polish of a woman's holiday manicure as she rolled past on a gurney. Clearly, she hadn't anticipated an ED visit as part of her holiday celebrations either. On another gurney, next to my chair, lay my husband, getting an ECG, labs, and iv fluids. The prayer “Please don't let it be a heart attack or a brain tumor” wove silently through my thoughts.
We were lucky. There was no heart disease, no brain tumor. It was viral, just a touch of the flu. Two liters of iv normal saline did the trick.
I wish everything could be cured with a couple of liters of normal saline. There are nurses reading this who recently grieved for loved ones absent from their places around the holiday meal table. No one mentions that all love stories eventually end. The most enduring conclude at death, and there's the burn. Nurses know there's no such thing as love without loss.
The trick is not to let the inevitability of death, and its accompanying fear of loss, steal the willingness to love from our lives. Being a nurse does not shield us from vulnerability, and this is good. Vulnerability is part of the human condition, and if we stay open, it lends us the compassion we bring to the bedside while caring for our patients.
Now, in the eyes of the elderly woman holding the hand of her dying husband, I see the young couple they once were, saying, “I do,” full of hope and courage in the face of the inevitable.