Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hands

Hands that I love

A New Nurse

As a new nurse on a trauma unit back in the day, some patients made lasting impressions on me. I still think of them from time to time. One of the very first was a man who had lost both of his arms. It was a grave injury and he nearly died. Some how between his blood and my sweat and that of an entire medical team and nursing unit, he survived. He came back months later to see us.


A Patient

I don't think he remembered much about his time with us, but he wanted to see us and thank us. We had perhaps meant something to him, I know he meant something to me even if he didn't know my name. It's strange how that happens as a caretaker of a body, for he was only a body then, a body that needed a lot of help. Later his humanity returned, but just then he was a body in crisis. I didnt stay in trauma nursing long, too taxing on my soul with all that anguish I watched those bodies go through- physical, spiritual, and mental.

A patient visiting the nursing unit also proved to be unusual. Only a few patients ever came back to the nursing unit to see the staff purposefully. Sometimes I would see patients going to appointments, their families generally remembered the staff well, and so we often shared a greeting. Other nurses would report updates if they saw one of our old patients. Some patients stayed with us for months between the two units and we felt attached to them.


A Poem & Some Wisdom

I read a poem today that took me back to that trauma unit, with its chaos, even the smell of my just washed hands, to the moment I emerged from a room and saw him standing there on the unit, easily identifiable without his arms, in a pair of jeans, staring with a measure of unknowing and surprise at the comings and goings between the trauma unit and the step-down.

By the time he came back to see us, he had already been through months of rehabilitation. He had learned to feed himself, dress himself, and to adjust to life without arms or hands. He didn't remember us, but he said he wanted to come back because his family so identified with the unit. He had been there for a while. Nurses, staff, interns, stood about the nursing station asking him questions as if he was holding court and we were his humbled audience which we were.

It was strange to see him in his entirety instead of all the problems he had been on my shift. I say this not to compartmentalize a patient, but because in the fast and furious pace of out whiting death, my focus was on one thing, the priority at hand, which changed moment to moment. It also reflects how much of me was absorbed in the work as a new nurse as not much was left behind for other thoughts. That day on the trauma unit has stayed with me both for the shock of seeing him upright and vertical and for what he told us.

Someone asked him, "What's the hardest part about losing your arms?" He answered with nary a pause. He knew precisely what he had lost. He told us what bothered him the most about his injury was that he could not hug anyone anymore, he had to wait for someone to hug him. My heart melted on the spot. He also said he was grateful to be alive and showed us a few things he had learned to do, his humanity and humor fully intact.

When I lost my hands I started wearing gloves,
the kind pallbearers wear,
thin and yellowed.

When I lost my hands I started to stare
at my father lifting his wineglass
like a dancer would a rose,

at my aunt shuffling cards,
brittle veins almost breaking
against the aquamarine on her knuckle,

at my grandfather holding his guitar
not so much like a lover as like a god
who has touched the earth.

When I lost my hands I started to see
how doves fold their wings
over their backs
like hands in prayer.

When I lost my hands I could no longer pray.
When I lost my hands I could no longer speak.

"When I Lost My Hands" by Greg Hewett, from Red Suburb. © Coffee House Press, 2002.