The ward smells of cleaners and feces and my brand new nurses shoes squeak down the hallway. My scrubs are stain free and my 22 years had not yet experienced death. Suddenly, since I crossed stage and picked up degree, I am here every day, breathing it, dreaming it, seeing it, absorbing it. It is haunting most thoughts, my journal is riddled as I wrestle with it.
This shift I am pulled into office of head nurse and she says
“Melissa, I need to prepare you for this…” and she speaks unspeakable about tumors and death and I muster courage for the day to come. I’d seen much these last weeks; mouth tumors dissolving lips, men suffocating from the fluids in their own abdomens, I held fast to wife as husband took last breath. I thought, what more could there be to see?
I walked confidently to room 418 and slipped inside, introduced myself. The woman there, extravagantly beautiful, turned sharp green eyes on me and forced smile. We discuss the dressing change I need to do. She nods, sits up and looks out the window. I start removing bandages determined not to be shocked, but my body betrays as my breath hangs itself on my epiglottis.
Her chest wall is a wave of necrosis; black like tar, specked with scabs, her breast has disappeared into folds of enormous tumor. I keep rolling used bandage into gloved hand and am astonished to find tumor has tunneled through and emerges just below shoulder-blade. I don’t understand how she is still breathing. I am barely able to inhale myself, afraid the smell of dead tissue is contagious.
“Tell me” I say, still breathless “how is it that you just now, came to us?”
“I guess I was afraid. Someone called it denial. I don’t know…” Her voice drifts off.
That is it. That is what this strange feeling of deja vu has been. I’ve been feeling like I recognize that wave of dead. It is familiar. I realize this is the first time I’ve seen fear in the flesh but I’ve known her a long time. She lived in the pit of my stomach as a child when my classmates acted up. She settled into my lungs leaving me breathless. That is what fear does. It festers and bubbles and chokes things to death. It grows and swallows. Like a cancer tricks your body into supplying nutrients, fear has tricked me into thinking I need her and I feed her whatever she wants. I create the worst scenario in even the best situation.
Here now, I start journey towards healing. The road is long and sometimes I’m only in maintenance, keeping her at bay, treating her to give myself a few more good years.
Other days we do better. I let sweetest soul doctor breathe life over dry bones. I’m brave enough to ask in every situation “and then what? And then what? And then what?” and every question eventually ends in “and then you get back up. Not right away, but eventually, you will get up, and God will STILL be God”.
I stop choking.
The black stops spreading.
I am at peace.
(But my friends…this week…as all weeks when we dream big…I’m feeling darkness creep a little. Will you pray for this???)