Thursday, 29 June 2017

I assisted on a liver biopsy this morning.  An elderly man whose liver was full of tumors, his belly hard and bloated, fluid starting to accumulate around his organs.  When we were done he asked when we were going to start fixing him.  He broke my heart a little.

There is no fix for him.  I'm a nurse and I can't tell him but I hope and pray that the next doctor who sees him tells him how bad his cancer is, how little time he has left.  He's a lovely old man who I imagine has worked hard his whole life for his family.  He was a miner which can't be an easy job.  He came to Canada forty-seven years ago, he had to learn a whole new language at thirty-eight.  It can't have been easy for him.  He had no complaints, other than feeling tired all the time.  He doesn't like feeling tired.

New patients arrive daily.  Old patients disappear, never to be seen again, only faintly remembered.  Some patients come for many years before they succumb to this horrid disease, others only last weeks.  Some are very young, a two and a half year old girl this past month and an eighty-five year old gentleman today.  Some have nobody with them, others have their whole family with them.  Some are convinced they will beat this disease, others look worn out and tired of treatments that make them feel worse rather than better.

Today I only had maybe ten patients because I worked in ultrasound, assisting with biopsies.  It was easier in some ways because there was less grief to deal with.  All of my patients carry grief with them and I think it leaks into me at times.  There are days when I can manage to witness and honor their grief and there are days when I am too rushed and tired to deal with more grief.

I carry my own grief as well, we all do.  Regrets, loved ones we've lost, mistakes we've made.  It adds up over a lifetime.  Katie's diagnosis was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with.  The grief was overwhelming.  It almost killed me but I survived.  Perhaps it is the grief in my building that is getting to me.  I can feel it around me and I can't turn away from it.  It's too important but I need to find a way to witness my patient's grief without carrying it around with me.


  1. My heart just feels broken for you and this kind of burden.

    I know very well the path of cancer. I have radiation coming up in a few weeks and I dread seeing the faces of the others in the waiting room. I can't tell you enough, Deb, how wonderful it would be to have a nurse like you in there. Don't you ever think for one minute that your work is not a godsend to so many people. I would be so grateful to see you walk in the door. And I know, just like most of those patients, who maybe can't voice it, that women like you are one of the most healing parts of the journey - truly.

    I'm so sorry for the grief and stress that you experience, and wish I could take it away. Thank you for all you do.

  2. Read about and practice Tonglen. I've always found that helpful when I'm overwhelmed not just by my own suffering but by others' as well. And I always forget about it! Pema Chodron has a good guided meditation that you can probably find online. I'm sending you much love.

  3. The Grief and Stress of your Career Path must be very difficult to bear, but I agree with Liv that it's so very much a Godsend to have those like you in the professions that Minister to the Sick, the Dying or the Disabled. It's hard enough to bear the consequences of any of that without having Staff without the tenderness of Heart that you truly seem to have for them. The depth of your Love is evident by the depth of your Pain carrying it with you even when you're rather not!

  4. Sometimes I think there must be a shelf life on jobs like yours. And mine. There's only so much you can be witness to before it wears you down. I find myself wondering when I will burn out.

  5. You are doing so every day -- the witnessing, the bearing up and with., the abiding. You will know when to stop, but I imagine you will go on with it -- the abiding, at least, because it is who you are. I am in awe that you do this every day and write so beautifully of your conflicts. I hope that some of us out here help you by witnessing and abiding with you in this small way.