Life is fragile, handle with care

01 Nov

I wrote this on the subway home from last week’s clinical but didn’t post it.

How quickly I forget. I know I am not alone in this matter, but I can only speak for myself. I am in a hurry so I cross the street without looking left, right, and then left again. I speed through a yellow light; God forbid I have to sit at a red for 2 minutes. I don’t wear a seat belt in the back seat of cabs.  I have no idea if our smoke detector even works.

Riding my bike every morning, I have become so careless in being a defensive cyclist. I am impatient and even borderline aggressive when cars don’t give me the right of way.

I am so lucky to have periodic reminders to be more careful with the precious life that I temporarily own. I am reminded to heed these more gentle warnings, minding the fragility of life. And you should, too, because there is a more than likely chance that if you are taking the time to read my blog, you love me and I love you.

This morning, I got off a stop early on the subway and walked through Central Park. I woke up smiling, literally, because this is my favorite day of the week. On Thursdays I get to be with my mentor, a stellar DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice, semi-new terminology for a nurse practitioner holding a doctorate). My step had a bounce to it, and I beamed at all the passersby even if they didn’t smile back. I even thought about telling a cyclist waiting with me at a stoplight that he should buy a helmet. But, I didn’t because that would be an unsolicited intrusion in a complete stranger’s life, right? Wrong. I wish I had said something.

My day was good, great even. I arrived and my instructor informed me that I would do my normal tasks, and in addition, perform part of a physical and take a partial patient history. I got an amazing, hands-on, taste of my future life as a nurse practitioner. And I got more nimble and confident with my fingers, administering a whopping 6 vaccines. That makes probably more than 20 shots total! Heaps of practice.

The day was wonderful until the last patient. My instructor prepped me for her, but the reality didn’t truly hit home until I put a face to the tragic story. She is a nursing student, I won’t say where or what program, but mention that fact only because it eerily parallels my own life. She is young and recently married, but her spouse and her have a long history together as they grew up together. Three days ago, her husband was riding his bike, in a bike lane in Manhattan. Cars were parked to the right of the bike lane, as is common. A driver opened his door without peeking behind to look for oncoming traffic, bike or otherwise, and “doored” the cyclist, which happened to be our patient’s husband. He flew forward, cartwheeling off the bicycle and landing in the middle of the road, where he was run over by an oncoming vehicle. He died.

When our patient walked in, emotions flooded me. She was ashen, her face a mask. Clinically speaking, her features lacked any affect whatsoever. It was clear that she was grieving tremendously. She came in for Xanax and I felt completely helpless, sitting on the rolling stool because I, no actually, “we,” couldn’t do anything for her. It wasn’t just me, the provider couldn’t say anything to assuage her pain either. That was a terribly painful realization. The least I could do, and somehow managed though I know not how, was contain my own tears until she left. When the door finally closed, I was berating myself internally for the tears that had already overflown. But when I looked at my clinical instructor, I saw that she was crying openly as well. We took tissues and simply sat for a few moments in silence. It was cathartic to realize that I can feel pain. I am supposed to feel pain occasionally, but I have to work on letting it wash over me, without internalizing it.
I did my best. But when I left, I still dialed my most loved companion and asked him slightly desperately to please not ride his bike that day. Or ever again until we could talk more about it. We both ride our bicycles all the time. We are young and in love. It so easily could have been one of us. This is one of those tragic accidents that makes you feel so helpless and grief-stricken. So many of us have false perceptions of how protected we are, but everything can change in a second without changing a single thing about how you live. I feel distraught for that young woman I met. She so easily could have been me instead of my patient.

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2 responses to “Life is fragile, handle with care

  1. geena epstein

    November 2, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Rachel..once again, your post brought back a long forgotten memory. It is of a young mother who was hit by a car and was in a nursing home because her husband was not able to meet all her needs to keep her at home. She was pregnant at the time..her baby was delivered safely..but she suffered severe brain damage and was rendered a quad. It struck me as well, how quickly life could change. She was only 2 years older than me. It made me so sad..but worse, it made me fearful. I felt it to my core..what was the point of enjoying life if it could all come tumbling down in an instant? I remember feeling that way for quite some time. She was the first person I took care of that made me feel like I wasn’t infallible. I learned alot from her. The story is longer..I will tell it to you one day in person. Moral of the story..take precautions when you can..and enjoy your life.

    • rachelsspoonful

      November 2, 2010 at 6:09 pm

      Geena, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. You always have such incredible insight. It is good to hear that I am not alone in taking on some of the experiences of my patients sometimes, even though I know I should avoid it. Will look forward to sharing our stories together now, and in the future. xoxo


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