Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nights of Artwork

After the daytime hours, after the rounds, after the tests and busyness and bright lights.

Night shift. When lights go down, visitors leave, other staff go home.

And no one's there for the most part, except the patients, the nurses, and in the pediatric world, the moms.

And I find myself the sole nurse in our oncology/transplant section, the keeper of the cancer kids, all barely younger than I am.

College has been put on hold. The garage band had to wait. In fact, all earthly time-keeping has stopped and now days and hours are measured from the last time they vomited, the day they got their cells, the last dose of the dreaded yet blessed chemotherapy. The poison that offers hope. The only chance short of divine intervention.

The moms know late night vigils too. Though their babies are no longer really babies, I assume they will always see them that way. To pass the long hours quicker, they pull a table out of a room. And they stay up late, playing cards, drinking diet Dr. Pepper, laughing into the wee hours.

But I'm busy. I smile and laugh at their antics as I pass, but I've got a lot to do and have no time to play. The chemo their children receive is so caustic it has to be purged, usually first by vomiting, then washed off the skin where this drug finds it way out of the body, requiring baths every four hours lest it cause burns. Each child has a list of medications longer than what should be allowed into a single body. Orders need to be signed, chemo hung, nausea abated, poison washed.

From time to time, the card game stops. One mom rises, again, to hold the pan for their wretching child. It evetually passes, the mom returns to the table, and the game goes on.

The other mom rises. A pump is beeping. She rushes to silence it before her child wakes. She makes sure I notice, which I do, then returns to her cards.

It is past midnight. My shift is near half over. Yet I am still behind, not yet caught up from the tasks that don't stop.

Then I remember.

Nursing is an art, not just a science.

So I slow my pace, go over in my head what can wait from my all-important list.

And I sit at the card table with the cancer moms.

I don't play, for their game is well under-way, and I don't know the rules.

But we talk, and I laugh. They offer me a Dr. Pepper, and we talk cancer.

They tell me of their kids, I tell them of my mom. We story-swap in the darkness.

They show me a poem, written about moms of cancer kids, telling me to ignore the last part about the kid dying. They'll think about that part later, when there is no hope, but for now, hope remains.

Then it gets too hard, and tears fall uprotected from all of us, and they resume playing and I stand up to finish whatever I thought was so important before.

But from the grateful and understanding look on their faces, I knew my most important job of the night had already been completed. A tiny piece of art, clumsily splattered in the dark.