How is an oncology nurse like a midwife?
Near the end of labor during the birth of my second child fear unexpectedly possessed me and I began a whiney, shallow-breathed, feeble chant of, “No, no, no, no. I don’t want to do this anymore. No, no, no.” At about that point my butt involuntarily mobilized itself and scooted back from its assigned spot at the edge of the delivery bed. The midwife calmly said, “Look at me. LOOK AT ME.” Once she had my full attention she gently said, “There is one way out of this situation. No other way……one way. You are going to listen to me and I am going to help you have this baby.” And we did. She was a magic woman who shortly thereafter handed me my beautiful girl, Cameron. During a routine visit a few years later, after I’d not seen her for a bit, I asked if she remembered, and at the thought of it I started crying like a fool. Even now I tear up at the thought of how she got me past the fear. She is a professional with a gift. Up until that point I’d never encountered someone like her.
At Memorial Sloan Kettering every single person I’ve encountered, and I mean every single person, has been remarkable. From the off duty employee standing out front of the building who gives you a big smile, to the guy who assures efficiently full elevators, to the person who happily schedules your next appointment, often coordinating with multiple doctors, for the exact most convenient day and time. As a manager myself I don’t know how one organization can find, hire and train so many people for so many job functions and have them all work so well all the time. I mean some of them must have a bad day sometimes, right? But I’ve yet to see it.
That brings me to the oncology nurses. Chemotherapy is a scary thing. The meds can leak out of my veins and damage my tissue. My access port can get clogged. I can have allergic reactions. I’m voluntarily allowing them to put poison in my body. My anxiety is high; my emotional defenses are low. Enter Nurse Mary, Eric, Raymond or Katherine. Whoever is assigned to me that day, they breeze in on their self-confidence and my anxiety level immediately drops a notch.
When my port was clogged Nurse Eric explained they’ll just re-access it with a larger needle and if that doesn’t work they’ll inject something to clear it. No problem. Nurse Raymond helped him with the procedure. My anxiety level dropped another notch.
That same day I hit the Nurse Call button because I’d felt a stinging sensation at my port. No less than 4 nurses appeared within 5 seconds. Anxiety level down five notches.
Nurse Eric suggested hard candy to alleviate the aversion to the smells associated with chemo, achieving a 3-point anxiety reduction for each of my 4 remaining sessions. If we are counting, I think he’s in the lead.
Today, Nurse Mary explained that the Benadryl pre-med is so strong because it is injected right into my bloodstream. She said, knowing exactly how I felt, “That’s why you immediately feel like you’ve had a cocktail.”
“More like 10 cocktails,” I tried to reply, but it came out “Moli tenka tales.”
She smiled and she said it would gradually fade. “Now would be a good time to take a nap.” She brought a warm blanket. I had no choice because I couldn’t lift my eyelids. When I did try to peer out, Fletcher was caught in a swirly diorama of green, gray and tan, the colors of the trees, sky and wall behind him. (For anyone considering it as a shortcut to inebriation and a nap, I don’t recommend mainlining Benadryl. The effect is as if you are a 20-year old at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning but without the enjoyment of the Saturday night party that got you in that condition. No riding down Route 18 with friends on the hood of the car, no sweaty dancing, no ham sandwiches in suit pockets, no signing “Amy” at the top of your lungs, no ruined shoes from the inches of beer on the floor. Just the bed spins.)
Nurse Brian had said the nurses would be very attentive this week due to the possibility of an allergic reaction to Taxol. After Mary started the Taxol infusion I could hear her voice as she tended other patients around me and I knew that she was closely monitoring me but from a “let’s not freak her out” distance. As I listened for Mary’s voice I heard the nurses interact, genuinely happy to assist each other. My anxiety dropped another notch, knowing that if I had a reaction they’d be working together to fix it.
So how is an oncology nurse like a midwife? Although labor and delivery could not be more different than chemotherapy, the midwife and the oncology nurses both got me past the fear in two situations with “one way out…no other way,” one to get the baby out and the other to get the cancer out. I appreciate their skill, patience and personalities to such an extent that it brings me to tears.