A Beautifully Painful Mess


The Ruins of Rome. Summer 2014.

Strange. The door was ajar, a moment ago. I knocked, then pushed it open.

I had expected my patient to be on the phone. Instead, she sat on the exam table, her young daughter standing at her side. The little girl’s left hand wrapped the blood pressure cuff over her mom’s arm, and the other hand squeezed the inflation bulb.  Startled by my interruption, she hurriedly put the cuff away.

“When you grow up, do you want to be a doctor or nurse?” I smiled, reaching for a pair of gloves.

“A nurse,” she replied.

“Really?! That’s awesome, I’m a nurse, and I love it. It’s a lot of fun.”

“I like helping people,” she explained.

“That’s wonderful… do you know what it takes to become a nurse?” I inquired.

She approached me with attentiveness, eager to answer. “I have to work really hard.”

“Yes. What kind of grades do you get now?”

“Mostly E’s [for excellent behavior].”

“I’m so glad to hear that. When you are older, do all your homework and study hard so you can become a nurse, okay?” I turned towards her mom. “Mom, what’s your date of birth? I’m going to give your shot now.”

The young girl scooted right beside me as I wiped her mom’s deltoid with alcohol.  “I’d like to help.”

It was the first time a child had ever offered to assist me, at work. “You can watch as I give the shot. When I say it’s okay, take this and put pressure on your mom’s arm if she starts bleeding, okay?”

She nodded. After I pulled the syringe out, she followed my instructions and applied gauze to the injection site.

“Good job. Has it stopped bleeding?”

She checked the site. “It stopped.” She placed the band-aid on her mom’s skin. So compassionate and conscientious, this little girl.

“You’re going to be a great nurse one day.”

~ ~ ~

Ready to retreat home after work, I started my car when I noticed a patient’s family member near their car.

“Hi Jane,” I called out.

“Hi Soapie,” she forced a half smile, dark circles beneath her eyes.

“How are you handling everything? It must be rough.”

“I am managing…” she exhaled a deep sigh.  “The funeral was just last week, and there is so much paperwork…”

I touched her shoulder, hoping to speak encouragement. Like how I missed her mom, too. I had the privilege of getting to know her the past few years. Not only was she a patient, but she was a genocide survivor- a woman with a weak body, but a strong heart and a gentle spirit.

But my words… they were locked in. Frozen like glaciers, refusing to flow out.

I offered a hug.

She hugged me tight.

~ ~ ~

Returning to my car, I closed the car door.

What a beautifully painful mess.

In one day, I cultivated hope for a young, aspiring child, and I sifted sorrow, consoling a patient’s grieving family amidst their loss.

Seemingly opposite, yet both integral to the calling of a nurse.



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15 thoughts on “A Beautifully Painful Mess

    • thank you so much! to be honest i felt really conflicted about the title and thought about editing it the next day, until I saw your comment. sometimes its easy to feel jaded and burned out, that’s why i keep writing to remind myself of that love and passion for my vocation and my patients. =)

  1. Thank you for sharing your life as a nurse with us. It must be satisfying (and also difficult) to touch so many lives. Capturing the small moments in print shines a light on their significance.

  2. I loved the glacier line and can definitely identify with struggling for the right words in a situation like that. Beautiful descriptions of different parts of your job and of life.

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