Volume 3 Book 7 Part 10 of
Living in the Bonus Round
Heroes work in this place.
[ Book 3-6 ] -- [ Pt 1 ] [ Pt 2 ] [ Pt 3 ] [ Pt 4 ] [ Pt 5 ]
[ Pt 6 ] [ Pt 7 ] [ Pt 8 ] [ Pt 9 ] [ Pt 10 ]
[ Pt 11 ] [ Pt 12 ] [ Pt 13 ] [ Pt 14 ] [ Pt 15 ] [ Pt 16 ]
February 10-12, 2004.
Nursing The Nurses.I love that my mother was a nurse. She worked hard, too. When she was in charge of a section, every patient knew that someone really SAW them. But what I remember most was how hard she worked. She never let anyone down. I loved looking in the nurse's station at all the files and snooping around the little refrigerators in their tiny "lounge" with day-old hamburgers and cold fries.
I saw first hand how much being a nurse could take out of her emotionally. The little "hospital" in Buna, Texas was joined with the "nursing home," where old folks in wheelchairs lived. A death was always felt in our household.
Now imagine you work in a place where death is the expected result. Your job is to make sure they die in peace.
How many times a year do you fall in love? People at the end of their lives are extraordinary anyway. If you haven't been with someone in the last days of their life, you do not know what this means. Sometimes they actually recover for a time and make little miracles happen.
My task today was to sing for the volunteers, social workers, nurses, doctors, staff persons, friends, and family of anyone who wanted to come and hear this strange man who plays piano in hospitals and hospices.
Sarah said to me, "It's been five years. I know because you came right after I had my one year anniversary. I just celebrated six years this month. Everyone is so excited!"
I remembered that first time vividly. I barely got five words into "Save Me A Seat" before my throat started to choke up.
She said, "I'm so nervous about introducing you!" (She was shaking.)
"What are you talking about? You talk to all these people every single day," I protested.
"You want me to write you an introduction?" I asked.
She said she did.
That night we went out to a Greek restaurant where the owner looked Indian or Pakistani. He hugged all of us. He really hugged Brian.
Okay, let's talk about Brian. I'm providing this primarily as further evidence for Sarah's mother that, yes, Sarah is definitely married. And yes, he's straight.
He even washes his dish when he's done with it.
Brian is just a guy. Reminds me of my brother DOS in this way. Solid. Cool. Totally secure in his own guy identity. Somewhat intentionally scary looking. But soft as a cream puff on the inside.
These are their dogs. The big shaggy one is 15 years old. He laid on me when we were driving around in the truck. The little black one is a rescue dog whose owner had died. Incredibly well trained and smart. (She did the "running around the house three times" game with me when I first arrived and had comfortably gotten seated.)
I had my oatmeal with tons of walnuts and pecans. He had eggs. We went down to the Kobacker House about 9am.
Wide halls for hospital beds but softened with homemade quilts
and other works of art all created to honor the memories of people they loved.
A quilt honoring Libby Bradford.
She was one of the first hospice volunteers and was
instrumental in bringing Kobacker House "to life."
They have a memorial lecture yearly in her honor .
All the pieces of fabric were from things in her house.
Tiles created for the Columbus Arts Festival
in memory of loved ones.
This is the room where I would be playing.
A Canine Companion that works with the staff psychologist.
This sweetheart plays with folks who are ill.
The reduction in pain and stress is measurable when
patients can spend a few moments with a
doe-eyed beauty like this one.
The last time I was in Columbus was July of 2001. That was a concert we set up at the hospital. I was wearing my eyepatch back then because my eye was really pushing out. (Right now it's just annoying in that it always looks slightly up).
That night I met a young man named Alex. Alex introduced me that night in the character of Linda Richmond, the "Coffee Talk" lady from SNL. I recorded in that diary entry:"Then came the best moment of all. Alex Thomas came in with his dad and mom -- and proceeded to entertain us for a non-stop half hour at least. This kid is funny. He not only had Linda Richmond down but he sat there and did an impersonation of Christopher Walken having an conversation with Jay Mohr. Now how hip is that?
"They had all just come from a thrift store where they bought a whole "Linda Richmond" outfit. Backstage, Alex (by now, half in drag) had us all in stitches doing imitations and other take-offs. He also peppered me with questions about off-Broadway, about "making it" in the biz, etc. I kept thinking, "This kid's gonna make it. He's fierce.""
Alex Thomas & Steve, July 2001.
Alex Thomas and Steve, February 2004.
Look how much he's grown!
We're both better looking.
Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit. It was just "pose for pics" and maybe hang for a second before the concert.
I gave Sarah the introduction. I made it brief and listed my awards and school speaking credits -- you know, to make me sound bigger than I really am. It actually sounded quite impressive. Her reaction to all my hard work writing this thing that she asked me for? A smirk and a, "They know all this."
"Then make up your own introduction!" I scowled. (We smirk, scowl and tease each other constantly.)
Sarah stumbles through an introduction.
See Steve standing in the back listening to Sarah.
Taking a pretend phone call.
I think I cried about six times during the concert. What I know about workers like this is that they frequently struggle with something psychs call "Compassion Fatigue." Knowing this in advance, I began by just telling my story -- as a patient. But by the time I got to "Going It Alone," I felt myself undergo a metamorphosis. I became the nurse. Nursing the nurses. Thanking them for the work, patient to caregiver. Letting them know that I do understand, at least to a certain extent, the stress and challenges of what they do, that they don't just minister to a dying person, but to whole families at a time during the most crisis-centered times of their lives.
I let them know that I consider what they do a calling, not just a job.
After the little concert, we had a talkback session where they asked me questions and we interacted more personally.
The talkback session.
Singing an extra song during the talkback.
L: Linda Hanson the volunteer coordinator, with Sarah.
Linda loves the song "Preacher and the Nurse."
Posing with a Hat of Hope, given to me by a volunteer.
It's from Novartis Oncology.
All the time I was singing for these wonderful people, though, I had Greg Burley on my mind. Readers of this diary met Greg back when I was in Rochester NY last year. Greg was battling brain cancer, had gone through a huge therapy session with chemo and radiation, but alas, his wife informs me that the doctors are saying that he has lost the battle and has only a little time left, maybe less than a day or two.
I think Greg's battle has been one of the reasons this production of TLS has been so emotional for me. I have another friend in Texas who is also undergoing cancer treatment so I've had him and his wife on my mind, too.
So, I ask my readers to think of Greg and Dwight. If you're the praying kind, say a prayer for them please -- and especially say a prayer for their loved ones and caregivers. And while you're at it, say a prayer for the hard-working, life-giving hospice workers in Columbus and around the world.
They truly are heroes.
© 1996-2004 by Steve Schalchlin.You have permission to print from this diary and distribute for use in support groups, schools, or to just give to a friend. You do not have permission to sell it.