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When Death Comes: An Oncology Nurse Finds Solace in Mary Oliver

22 February, 2021

Nina Solis on making peace with the Unknown. This article was first published in Literary Hub.

By Nina Solis

February 18, 2021

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
Mary Oliver, “Sometimes”

When I was a new-to-practice oncology nurse, I was a walking, talking ball of anxiety. There were endless tasks to perfect, like memorizing chemotherapy regimens, monitoring a patient during a stem cell infusion, and recognizing clinical emergencies like septic shock or hemorrhagic stroke before they progressed past the point of intervention. I quickly learned that working with cancer patients required a sharp attention to detail and an almost exhausting level of stoicism. But above all else, my greatest fear stemmed from knowing I’d eventually have a patient die under my care.

I was overwhelmed with uncertainty and dreaded the inevitable. One day, I’d have to coordinate hospice care, communicate with distraught family members, perform post-mortem tasks, and zip a body bag shut. During my three months of orientation, I asked every experienced nurse I knew to share insights and wisdom on death and dying. What if the person is suffering? How can I tell if someone is close to the end? What am I supposed to do once it’s over? In many cases, death is expected, and—from what I understood, reading from the tiny notepad I kept with my colleagues’ answers—my only real responsibility was to keep them comfortable while they are passing away.

However, sometimes death comes unexpectedly.

Read the full story at Literary Hub