Diet As Tolerated

by jparadisi

by jparadisi

Sitting in a trendy restaurant sipping a cocktail, I pick Marcona almonds from a small plate set between a blonde woman and myself. We are guests celebrating the birthday of a mutual friend. We grin self-consciously before introducing ourselves.

She asks, “What do you do for a living?”

Do all nurses dread this question at parties? Admitting I’m an oncology nurse is a buzz kill. The dread I anticipate appears in her eyes but not for the expected reason. She says her father is hospitalized in another city and “not doing well.” She can’t visit as often as she’d like.

She asks, “Do you like your patients? Is it hard taking care of them?”

I wonder, how much information can she tolerate? A few morsels or an entrée?

Cancer conjures images of wraiths drinking reconstituted chicken broth from Styrofoam cups or receiving nourishment through tubes. It would be untruthful to say this never happens, however, the social ambience of the clinic where I work surprises newcomers.

Instead of lounge chairs lining the walls of a single, cavernous space, our clinic has private rooms. Long-time patients have favorite ones. It’s not unusual to find Happy Birthday written in Sharpie on a piece of fax paper taped to the sliding glass door of a room of its “regular” occupant. Sometimes there’s birthday cake too. Cancer patients can eat birthday cake, like the rest of us. They eat “diet as tolerated.”

Patients with lengthy appointments are offered lunch, and some choose their infusion day based on the cafeteria’s soup du jour. Many choose to bring food from home, however.

Often, patients make their meals at the infusion clinic a special occasion by bringing utensils from home. I particularly admired a hand-thrown ceramic bowl brought by a special patient. Weekly, it was filled with something new: pillows of wonton, pea pods, and water chestnuts in broth, or brown rice with chicken. On rainy days, it cradled creamy macaroni and cheese, and an heirloom silver fork delivered each small bite to her awaiting mouth.

These meals are prepared with love. Families take pride in the accomplishment of feeding a loved one with cancer. The family table marches onto the foreign field of cancer proclaiming, “We will not surrender our loved one without a fight.”

Back in the restaurant, I see our hostess heading our way. The blonde woman has concerned eyes. There is only enough time to offer her with a small morsel of information.

I consider my answers to her questions, “Do you like your patients? Is working with cancer patients hard?”

“I love them,” I say. “Working with cancer patients is hard work but I can’t imagine a more rewarding job.” Her eyes relax. She takes a sip from her wine glass.

Like a fairy godmother, the birthday girl hugs me, kissing my cheek. Pouf! I am restored to a guest at her party, sipping a cocktail.

*This post was originally published on TheONC website.

Can Nurses Change Course? Thoughts on Inertia

When I hear the word inertia, the meaning I think of is actually paralysis:

The loss of the ability to move (and sometimes to feel anything) in part or most of the body, typically as a result of

Take One Daily by jparadisi

Take One Daily by jparadisi

 

illness, poison, or injury; inability to act or function in a person, organization, or place.

The actual definition of inertia is:

A property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force. Inertia is the inability to change course.

Nurses experience inertia when we are unable to switch gears from the high emotional output of our jobs to the more “normal” activities of our personal lives.

I wrote about my difficulty changing course in “The Hostess With The Mostest.” In that post, I describe struggling to transform from on-duty nurse into a party guest at the end of a shift. The difficulty is not only in physically changing from work clothes to party wear. It’s also in retooling my brain for party talk. I have to remember how to talk about favorite restaurants, or the latest film I have not yet seen, instead of cancer nursing, blogging about nursing, or the other related things I spend large amounts of my time doing, casting a shadow over a perfectly good cocktail party.

I think about this while observing people who are not nurses enjoying themselves by taking funny pictures with their cellphones while I avoid being caught in any photographs I wouldn’t want an employer to find on Facebook. Do I worry too much, or is it this a characteristic that makes me a nurse?

It’s healthy for nurses, like myself, to avoid inertia and change course through external activities after leaving our places of work. I find it easier said than done, however, not because I can’t relax, but because “normal” life sometimes fails to hold my attention.

I suspect other nurses find normal life less interesting than their nursing roles, too. If we aren’t over-scheduling ourselves with committee meetings, working overtime, all the while being the World’s Best Soccer Mom, we don’t feel busy enough.

This point was brought home to me by a friend who commented that I seemed tired after I said I was going for a run after getting off a 12-hour shift early. I told her, “No, I’m not tired. I only worked eight hours today.” She replied, “For most people, eight hours is a full day’s work. Go home and get some rest.”

I didn’t. I went for the run. I do my best thinking while running, not meditating on a yoga mat. It’s hard to walk when you’re born to run.

Do you think preferring a busy and sometimes-hectic lifestyle is a characteristic of nurses?