Think of the souls you'll save
While we were at the hospital, Mom asked me why I volunteered to turn my days and nights around so that I could stay up with Dad during the night. It was hard to explain why, exactly, but it had something to do with contrary nature and my need for solitude. When I tried to explain this to Mom, I think it all came out wrong, but I eventually managed to maneuver my words into the direction they needed to go: "It's not that I don't want to see the friends and family that come to see Dad during the day. It's that I just do better when it's just Dad and me."
Her "I don't understand but I'll take that weird answer and run with it" shrug told me all I needed to know. I've never claimed to be anything but the oddball of the family. Not a black sheep, but perhaps a grey sheep. Or a paisley sheep. Not rebellious; just different.
I liked the oncology night staff; Linda in particular. She was fiftyish, round as a button, sassy in the best Southern-nurse style, and wore glasses that marked her nearsightedness as being equal with mine.
When I arrived at the hospital, she was the first person who greeted me. It was just past 4:30 in the morning when I reached the hospital. My haggard, exhausted stare marked me as the younger daughter who had driven all night to get to the hospital; even the night-duty police officers patrolling the ground floor of the hospital stepped away and let me pass with no more than a cursory glance.
As I walked down the hall to my father's room, Linda came out of another room and barrelled toward me. She hugged me briefly, tightly, this woman whom I'd never seen before, and said, "You must be Amy. I was the one who made your family call you last night. Your mother's still up. Go see her."
We talked, Linda and I, every night that she was on duty. She was the nurse who came to me privately, wanting to ensure that my mother was aware of just how grave my father's situation was. As the hours and days wore on, we forged a kind of rapport.
On the night that I went walking (see "Nocturnal Daughter") around the oncology ward, she lectured me rather soundly. Dad had had a very restless, painful night, and none of the drugs he'd been given had eased his pain. After multiple discussions with the nursing staff, I had begun to think that I was the greatest pest the night staff had ever encountered.
Linda, instead, waggled her finger at me and told me that she'd be back in Dad's room in thirty minutes to see if his pain had eased.
When she returned, I was curled up in the recliner by Dad's bed, reading. My mother was, thankfully, sleeping. Linda tiptoed in and asked if Dad was still in pain. When I said that he still was, she gave Dad a new injection: toridol.
"I'm sorry to have to keep bothering you about this," I said. "It's just that I know that Dad doesn't have a lot of time left, and we don't want him to hurt if there's some way we can prevent it."
She crossed her arms and glared over her glasses at me. "Hon," she said, "let me tell you something. If you don't call me, I sit on my butt at the nurses' station and don't do anything. If I don't have anything to do, they'll fire me, and then I won't have a job. My son's in seminary, and if I don't have a job, I can't afford to pay the tuition. If I can't afford to pay the tuition, he won't finish seminary and won't be a priest, and all those lost souls are going to be on your conscience."
She reached down and patted my shoulder. "Just think of the souls you'll save. You come by the nurses' station anytime. We can't keep him comfortable if you don't ask."
The toridol worked where the morphine and dilaudid had not. Dad finally settled into sleep, and I found myself wondering if this soon-to-be-priest took any lessons from his mother about soothing souls.