Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Work Hangover Wednesday: Running In My Own Shoes
Yesterday I got a chance to say goodbye to someone who inspired me, sort of indirectly, but in a very profound way that has impacted my running over the past 5+ years, and going forward. I know this isn't going to make a lot of sense but it's one of those days when I just have to vent on things that happen, and I can't share details. I can only share the emotions and what it means to me.
She has no idea how much her experience has affected me. She doesn't need to know, and I don't feel the need to tell her, because she hardly knew me at all in life. The family she will leave behind understands, and that's more important in this case.
Why am I talking about death in a running blog? Because it's part of my life, everyone else's life, and everyone's running. Even if you're a runner, you're going to die eventually, just like non-runners. And I hope you'll have lived a good deal healthier and more enjoyable life into your older years than most non-runners.
Death is part of what I do. I deal with it in some way almost every day at work, but we're all on the continuum of life and death all the time. They are one and the same, but how you experience it depends on your perspective. You can choose to be dying, or you can choose to be living, regardless of your state of health, attitude, and approach.
I see a lot of people who are dying, and most of the time, they're not the ones with cancer. I take care of a lot of patients who are being treated for infections and wounds as a result of their own self-neglect. Some of them are trying to die, more consciously than not. I can think of a lot quicker and less painful ways to do it.
Don't get me wrong, many, if not most, of the patients I see are nowhere near death. They will probably end up dying in old age like many of us, from some freak thing that happens with their bodies at age 80 or 90-something, that has very little to do with cancer.
What I do at work is odd. It's making the best out of bad situations. Taking a person and the people they are closest to, where they are, at their most difficult, sensitive, fearful, and vulnerable moments, and making that moment as comfortable, peaceful, and maybe memorable for them, if they have the luxury of time.
It's not that I have to put a positive spin on bad things, I don't. I don't say things they want to hear, or that their families want to hear. I just work with the moment, and put my effort into making that go well. I bring a lot of boxes of tissues to the bedside or chairside.
I say what I can, ask questions, and then I call the counselors, social workers, chaplain, or massage therapists, maybe all of them. I can't be those things to people. I can be their nurse, I can carry out the physicians' orders and make them comfortable, and figure out what they need and do everything in my power to get it for them.
I find that I don't often agree with the decisions that patients and family members make when it comes to end of life. It's not how I would do it. It's a time of heightened emotions and stress and it brings out the worst in a lot of people.
Too many people are in denial or ignorance about how close death is, and get taken by surprise when they think it's still far off. They don't see the signs because they don't know what to look for, or what it looks like. Most people would rather not know anything about dying, and I don't blame them for that.
Even people who are in the business of dealing with people at the end of life are not always well-prepared when it's someone they love who is dying. These people need non-judgmental support. They have to go through it in their own way, and we can't possibly understand the path they traveled in order to arrive at their world view. We can only run in our own shoes.
But it doesn't matter what I think. What does matter is that the dying person gets their say, and that things are carried out on their terms, as much as possible. I just keep my mouth shut and carry on with my work, preserving the person's available options until they make a decision, as long as there is nothing that is going to cause harm to them.
Right now it's hard to imagine dying when spring is everywhere. I think that when I reach the finish line, I'd like to die in November or December, when it's cold and gray and the leaves are turning brown and crunchy, and there isn't a lot of nice weather to look forward to for a while.
I don't want to be buried in a cemetery, where my headstone would be lost among the crowds. I'd rather have my ashes scattered by people who knew me and where I'd want to be. At this point I'm torn betweeen Devil's Cornfield in Death Valley, and the slopes of Mt. Silverheels behind our cabin. But that could change someday.
When I was running in the cemetery last week, I saw a headstone that had a person's Ph.D. degree carved in next to their name. I don't think I've ever seen that before, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's common. I wondered if it was the person who died who wanted that on his grave, or if it was a family member who made that choice. Was that what the person wanted to be remembered for?
I also wondered if the aliens who land here in another couple of thousand years will know what a Ph.D. was. Will they care?
I hope I don't have any regrets when I die. What I do want to feel is that I lived my life as fully as I could have every single day, that I did the things that were meaningful to me, and that I am happy with the end result, even if it doesn't amount to something tangible to someone else. I feel like I do a good job of that. Money, toys and things really don't matter, they lose their meaning in death. Love is all that really matters at the end of life.
One thing's for sure, whatever you leave behind, whether it's money or things, it's only the wretched people who are left behind who will fight over the carcass, and that's sad. The thing that turns my stomach the most is when someone dies and the family members fight each other over what's left. I've seen that in happen my own family and that's why those people remain distant relatives.
When I reach the finish line, I won't have anything left. I hope I spend my last dollar on running shoes. Besides, I'll have to work until I croak to make ends meet, like most of my generation. That's okay, because I will have enjoyed the long adventure, and I'll be setting my own PR that no one else will ever beat.
In my own shoes.