We all have bad days. I swear, at one point I believed that my life was cursed with bad days immediately following good ones. Nothing goes as we planned or something downright awful happens. Working in the hospital and coming home to people bitching have made me realize how ungrateful and unappreciative people are, and how poorly we cope when something bad happens to us. I'm talking mostly about stupid small mishaps - our coffee spills all over us in the morning just as we're getting out of the car, we get stuck in traffic after a dreadful day at work, we don't get the weekend off to enjoy with our friends (talk about serious FOMO, welcome to the life of a nurse). Things happen. We don't always like what happens, and as a result, we're unhappy.
But what if I told you that at some point in your life, you would kill to have another one of these shitty days? What if you looked back at the end of the day and realized that, more than anything, you just wanted a normal, shitty day again? A day where the worst thing that happened was your coffee spilling or getting stuck in traffic after getting into an argument with a coworker?
One of my patients, whom I'll call Sally, is unbelievably sick with acute graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD). She had a stem cell transplant, and her donor's immune system is attacking her own. As a result, her skin is covered in what looks like total body burns, her gut is bleeding, and her liver is failing. She writhes in agony everyday. Every turn she makes in bed comes with unbearable discomfort and it takes tremendous energy to even take a sip of water. To make matters worse, she has children who she can't see because she's been too sick to raise them.
I was taking care of Sally last night and it was probably one of the worst nights I've ever had with her. Sally could be a tough cookie - she'll tell it to you like it is, she's vocal about what she wants, she could be stubborn and particular about her care, and she requires a lot of patience. Every nurse has had this type of patient at some point in their careers. I remember being so mad at her one night for refusing to do something I thought was important for her that I had to leave her room until my frustration passed (I took many deep breaths that night). I stood in the back room and felt my eyes fill with tears of rage (remember how I told you I cry out of frustration easily?). I couldn't even go back into her room until I felt okay myself, and despite much convincing and support from my coworkers, she still refused to participate in her own care . . didn't she want to get better? It was menacing, but after seeing her deteriorate last night, I realized I would give anything for her to just bitch at me again. Because at least then, I'd have the comfort of knowing that she energy to do something.
This thought was immediately followed by a memory of weeks back when she was still incredibly sick, but still talking and interactive enough to press my buttons, kill me with kindness, and make me want to punch myself in the face. Isn't that interesting? The idea that I wanted something that was still bad? She was, by no means, in good condition then, but at least she was better than her current condition. I would rather have that than this. Suddenly, this very idea that I was asking for a bad day dawned on me. When people are given three wishes, they ask for 1. a million dollars 2. to travel the world, and 3. for more wishes obviously (duh), but no one ever asks to go back to a shitty day.
I realized I was asking for this shitty day because Sally wasn't as sick. They say life is made up of moments that take your breath away, but what they seem to forget is that it's also made up of moments that break your heart. Seeing her so sick broke my heart, and at least a few weeks ago she didn't break my heart just yet. It made me think about my life and how one of my most heart-breaking days was the day my grandfather passed away with his entire family at his side. Or the day I had to be the one to tell my mom she had breast cancer and she grew silent, hung up the phone, and wouldn't pick up for several more phone calls. I remember thinking in those situations that I would kill to have a regular-bad day where I failed a test, got into an argument with someone I cared or about, or where I just thought I had it bad. I would go back in an instant.
Taking care of really sick people makes me think twice. It's helped me become more patient with shitty life circumstances. It's made me grateful to be fully capable of doing anything I put my mind to, apart from swimming (I don't think these lessons are helping). It's helped me become resilient and has taught me tenacity because if you could get through a heart-breaking day, you could damn sure get through a good-old bad day. Next time you have it bad, just think.
You really have it good.