Missing Nursing

Site-news: I have been busy.  I have added about 65 links to the Cancer Resources page and about 20 new links to the Cancer Blog Links page.  I finally published the new Being Cancer Book Club page.  I anticipate amending this as we learn what works and what doesn’t work regarding the book club.  This is the page where you can find out about the current month’s book as well as a list of past books.  I am having technical difficulty making the Amazon link for “The Last Lecture” appear in the margin.  I also started the Cancer Book List page.  I am anxious to hear recommendations from you, especially from those bloggers who have written their own books.  Finally I have added to the About this Site page to include the new posting “schedule” – Monday Book Club, Wednesday Guest Blog, Friday Cancer News Round-up.



Missing Nursing

It has been over seven years since I last did “floor nursing”, that is, bedside nursing in a hospital.  I worked on the oncology unit from 1987 to December 4, 2001 – the day I left work to see my regular doctor about the mass I discovered in my lower left abdomen, what the CT scan would reveal as a massively enlarged spleen due to my leukemia.  Except for three years I spent as manager, I always worked at the bedside.

On Sunday night I noticed that my fingers and arm seemed slightly enlarged.  A 250cc antibiotic “piggybacked” into the main line had just finished.  I set my call button and waited for my nurse, Anissa.  When she arrived I showed her my arm and asked her what she thought.  “Looks like it might be starting to infiltrate” (fluids leaking from the vein into the tissue).  We made a joint decision to run the second antibiotic at a slower rate and then reassess the site.  A very simple and, for me, very familar interaction.  I tell her that I miss nursing.

In many ways I was at my best as a human being when I was nursing.  Normally a quiet, somewhat introverted person, in my role as a nurse I seemed to blossom over the years.  I became comfortable in those quiet, personal moments of tragedy and hope.  It is a special privilege to be a nurse, especially an oncology nurse.  You are a lead actor in some of the most dramatic moments in a person’s life.  Some of your most human of memories are those at the bedside.  Snow falling outside, or sunshine.  Late at night or early in the morning.  Alone with your patient or out in the hall with the family.

I miss nursing.  I miss being able to access a port or a peripheral vein on a difficult to access patient.  I miss doing a dressing change on a Hickman or PICC because it gives a patient the opportunity to talk to me about some small fear.  I miss teaching the family, deconstructing the technical explanation that the physician offered before he left the room.  I miss distracting my patient with jokes and small talk as they endure yet another bone marrow biopsy.  I miss creeping into a room at night with a styrofoam cup covering my flashlight so as not to disturb the sleeping patient.  I miss struggling to decipher the doctor’s Progress Notes so that I can put the patient’s orders and history into some meaningful context.  I miss the satisfaction of noticing some early sign of a change in condition or an oncologic emergency, saving the patient from “crashing” later.  I miss being able to touch the shoulder of an unconscious patient.  I miss it when the wife of my patient says “because I know you’ll be taking care of him on Saturday, I will go ahead and take the kids out of town to King’s Island like I promised.”  I miss being stopped in the hospital cafeteria by a person I don’t recognize because now they have hair and have gained weight and are in a solid remission.  I miss being the only one my patient will let me see without her wig.  I miss passing popsickles out to my patient’s young children.  I miss drawing little pictures on the edge of the Port dressing.  I miss visiting a patient in the ICU after I kept them from nearly ‘coding’ on the oncology floor.  I miss helping a man celebrate his daughter’s wedding in his isolation room.  I miss being there on the day of discharge when my leukemic patient has been there for over a month and has gone through some close calls and now is going home to his family with a “clean” marrow.  These were all good times to be a nurse.

I miss sitting in the room of my patient who just died.  I have cleaned up the body, removed the oxygen mask and IV line, put on a new gown, changed to top linens and made sure that his arms are arranged naturally and outside the linens so that the family can hold his hand when they arrive.  I sit in a chair at the end of the bed to catch up on my charting.  It is as quiet and as peaceful as a church.  This was a “good death”.  This also was a good time to be a nurse.

My day nurse is named Alyssa.  She is new, less than six months on the floor.  I quiz her throughout the morning as I always did with new nurses.  Gentle teaching.  I miss nursing.  When Tish arrives to pick me up, I ask Alyssa how many patients she has.  “Four” she replies.  No, I said, how many in this room.  She looks back at me questioningly.  “One?”  No, I say looking at Tish, you have two.  The family is always your other patient.  Her eyes widen a bit and she nods.  She pushes me in a wheelchair down to the car.  At curbside she tells me she is glad that she had me as a patient.  And I tell her she will be a good nurse.  It was a good day to be a nurse, even a retired one.


About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.


Missing Nursing — 4 Comments

  1. wow – your images and reflections on nursing were very moving. as a pediatric social worker i work side by side with nurses every day and have the deepest admiration and respect for them…well, OK – most of them!! thank you for sharing….

  2. great post. i LOVE my nurses. they keep me sane. i go out of my way to be a ‘good patient’, i baked for them, send them little trinkets-tokens of appreciation, respect, and affection really. although i’ve had a great 12months (only 4 hospitalizations!), i still spend quite a bit of time at the medical center – labs every other week, CAT’s, MRI’s, PFT’s, EKG’s/EEG’s, PT, OT and other misc stuff, so i get to see ‘my nurses’ practically every week. i LOVE my nurses. they keep me going when i feel like i can’t. hmmmm….. i feel a post coming on, lol!

    thanks for stopping by my blog. be well 🙂

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