For the past eight years, I have worked as either a volunteer carer, a nursing assistant, and, eventually, a full-fledged nurse. I had not known what I wanted to be, but I never wanted to be a doctor, pilot, etc. Inspiration struck in the form of nurse Simone; blonde hair, blue-eyed, and she had such a kind and caring personality; she made me want to be her; she was my nurse when I had had my appendix out at age 13-years. After that, I started volunteering and eventually working after school at the local aged care facility. Then I worked during my University degree in another aged care facility as a Division 2 Nurse while studying to be a Registered Division 1 Nurse.
Once I graduated as a nurse, I worked in Orthopaedics, Day Surgery, Hematology, and Oncology. Oncology was my true passion, although I had feared and resented being allocated to the Ward at first. I loved it almost instantly; being compassionate was what I was good at, maintaining the necessary protective barriers, not so good. My walls came crashing down, and my spirit suddenly is broken. I had unintentionally allowed myself to feel too much for two patients in particular.
Maria was the first patient to break through my walls; a 57-year-old Italian immigrant whose daughter worked tirelessly in the hospital’s emergency department, she would pop up during and at the end of every shift to visit her mother. Maria had an advanced and aggressive Glioblastoma Multiforme, she had lost her ability to care for herself, and her speech had started to slur. After a while, she was on her third trial chemotherapy protocol, and things were finally starting to look better. The family decided to opt for surgery; I was against this decision, but making my feelings known was not appropriate nor needed.
I was the one to wheel Maria to the operating room that fateful day. She was so pleased, her smile beamed as she had managed to shower herself independently for the first time in almost three months that very morning. She had kissed both my cheeks, whispering sweetly, ”Figlia… benedici il tuo cuore“. I believe she had said, ”daughter… bless your heart“. After her surgery, Maria spent the next two weeks in the intensive care unit; she never smiled again. Her brain had not been able to cope with the surgery, it had swelled, and after a long and emotional fortnight, her family decided she was to be taken off life support and allowed to rest; her battle was over. It was an honor to visit her regularly during her final days and eventually provided her last hospital wash before the funeral home took her.
The other patient who broke through was Anurak or Anu for short, who I met initially as a 22-year-old Thai international university student. He had lymphoma that responded well to treatment and was soon in remission. 18-months later, he was re-admitted, almost 24-years old, and soon to be a father; the lymphoma had returned, and was not responding to any treatments provided. He had been receiving treatment for 11-weeks when he woke unexpectedly to find he had lost his sight. During a slow night shift, we had a deep and meaningful where he confided he was scared, he had planned to marry his girlfriend, but she was so close to having their baby girl.
Anu decided he would wait until after they were a family before asking her to marry him. Just three days later, his daughter was born, unfortunately, by the end of that week, Anu slipped into a coma, and two days later, he succumbed when his organs failed him. He had never seen his daughter’s hazel brown eyes or her dimpled smile, but he had held her, fed her, heard her cooing, and her adorable giggle. My brick wall barrier, as like to think of it, had come crumbling entirely down.
After Anu’s passing, I decided to take four months off and managed to travel around Europe for most of that time. Seeing 26 countries, briefly immersing in each culture, I hoped would help me heal and maybe build my walls back up. When I got home, I spent a couple of months working on the Oncology unit until I was unable; I was constantly reminded of these two beautiful people and how unfair cancers were. I had started crying at TV adverts, cried myself to sleep more nights than not, and I was found several times in the ward sluice room in uncontrollable sobbing fits. I was becoming an emotional wreck and possibly heading for a breakdown.
Dr. Stephen Andrews, who I considered a close friend and confidant, suggested a quick change of nursing scenery, so here I am about to start my first day in Ward 3 South. I chuckled darkly to myself as I looked at the ward signage ‘Psychiatric Unit.’ I had to wonder, would I end up being admitted to this unit myself?