Nurses Make Birthdays, One Year at a Time

by jparadisi

by jparadisi

Part of our institution’s medication administration policy is asking patients to state their name and birth date, scrutinizing the information against the medication label. Patients of a certain age, more women than men, customarily wince while saying the year in which they were born. Often they say, “I’m getting so old.”

Perhaps it’s none of my business to respond, but as a cancer survivor and an oncology nurse, I can’t seem to help it. This reply escapes my mouth with hardly a thought in between: “That’s what we do here. We help you grow old, one birthday at a time. That’s why you and I are here.”

It always gets a laugh, and more often than not a, “Well, I suppose you’re right. That is what we’re doing here, isn’t it?”

Like many things in life, the ability to enjoy growing old is a matter of perspective.

It’s a funny world we live in. People bemoan their birthdays and growing old; yet endure chemotherapy and procedures, fighting to add years to lives threatened by disease.

I don’t love the effects of aging on my body. I color my hair to hide the gray. I exercise and eat right, and avoid over indulging in things that destroy a body’s ability to maintain its health. But these things enhance life, they do not prevent the inevitable. I know my days are limited. I know some day I will cease to exist in the manner I do now.

You may feel depressed by reading this post, but I say to you, knowing that life is finite is the most freeing of all thoughts. It bestows the gift of living everyday to the fullest, to make choices honoring integrity, and loving relationships. Life is too short to dwell in unhappiness. This is the least that nurses can do to honor the memory of the patients we have known and lost: live life as if each day were the last.

And, yes, I will take another slice of that birthday cake.

Recipe: Strawberry Angel Cake


Internal view (slice) of Strawberry Angel Cake photo: JParadisi 2010

     A family member celebrated a birthday this week, and I volunteered to make her a cake. I remembered this one, which I haven’t made in years. In fact, I had to search through my recipe collection to find it. It comes from one of those community cookbook collections of its members’ favorite recipes sold for fund raising. I treasure these cookbooks as volumes of domestic Americana. My Italian grandfather contributed to this cookbook, (he was a damn fine chef) and gave it to me for Christmas in 1985. The cake recipe, however, is not one of his. Because I’m unsure if confidentiality laws apply to cookbooks, I have omitted the name of the woman who contributed this recipe. I have adapted the recipe to clarify the directions. 

    Note: If you tint the whip cream frosting pink, it’s a perfect cake for a little girl’s birthday party or Valentine’s Day. However, my favorite 10-year-old boy (the one I gave the Brain Cactus  to) informs me that if I leave the whip cream frosting white, sprinkle it with green sugar sparkles, and arrange tiny plastic army men on the top, it will be perfect for his birthday party later this year. 

Strawberry Angel Cake 

1 Angel food cake mix, baked per package directions, and completely cooled 

1 small box of strawberry Jello 

1 pint whipping cream, whipped and sweetened to taste (I used 1 tbsp powdered sugar) 

1 package frozen sliced strawberries (unsweetened) thawed and drained 

     Dissolve Jello in a bowl, using the amount of boiling water indicated in the package directions. Do not add the cold water too ( the Jello is concentrated by 1/2). Chill for about an hour. It should thicken, but not set. Whip the jello with a whisk or low-speed electric mixer, and fold in about 3/4 cup of the whipped cream. Reserve the rest of the whipped cream to frost the cake. Next, fold the drained strawberries into the Jello. Mixture should partially set. Refrigerate longer if it is too liquid, so it doesn’t drain through the cake. Set the Jello mixture aside. Slice off top 1/3 of the angel food cake and set it aside. Using clean fingers, dig out a trench in the lower 2/3 of the cake, leaving 1- 1 1/2″ of cake along sides and bottom of the cake (see photo above). Fill the trench with the Jello mixture. Replace the top, and frost with whipped cream. Chill until ready to serve.