Monday, April 23, 2012

My Sweet Friend.

This week, the ship lost someone who was held very near and dear to our hearts.
Before I tell you my experiences with her, take a peek at my friend's blog. She words it BEAUTIFULLY and was one of her nurses, so she explains the medical side of things far better than I eveer could..

Now for my side of the story...
A few months ago, I heard about a patient who was on the ICU who was struggling. From the moment I saw her through D ward(which is connected to the ICU), I wanted to meet her. I wasn't allowed, however, until she was released from the ICU. Fair enough. We have our rules, as any hospital does, though msot of our visiting rules are a little more flexible toward crew spending time with patients than home standards are.

I first met Chantal in February. She was placed on my favorite ward- at the time B ward, which is almost 100% for plastics patients(burns/ anything related to needing skin grafts). One of the first interactions we had was I saw her coming out of the bathroom, nearly falling over becasue he arm was secured to stand straight out from her body, which isn't exactly a practical position. The entry to the bathroom and the bathroom itself are so small, that she reallly needed some help, so I sprang up to help her. I got her in her bed, where she rested. She seemed tired, but mainly just emotionally exhausted. Imagine being stuck to a bed for weeks and weeks with a rare opportunity to get outside if your injury is severe enough, with no family by your side or friends from home visiting... exhausting.

I decided to visit her as often as I could. Looking back, I wish I had visited her much more in those early days. She spoke a little bit of english, but that was enough for us. I'd always go talk to her for a few minutes, play with the crazy kiddos, then come back for a few more minutes before I left for the evening.

As time went on, I noticed a change. 2 things really. Her attitude got better, but her body got weaker as the days tuyrned into weeks. She seemed to have a light in her eyes. Later, I found out she'd accepted Christ... it makes so much sense, and I'm so thankful to those who spoke with her about this and prayed with her and planted those seeds which turned into a beautiful flower.

My visits got harder and harder, but I never stopped. One day, I asked a friend, a doctor on board, what it looks like for her. She said they were at this point just trying to keep her comfortable- there was nothing more that could be done. Her body was too weak to continue fighting effectively. We were nearing the end.

Each visit, the life in her eyes got more and more dim. Not that her spirit got weak, it was just that her body was fading... and fast. I did all I could to get down there as often as I could and just sit there holding her hand. I couldn't help but think of what it must be like being in her shoes. As the days went on, I found out more and more from her nurses- she doesn't have parents, she lives in Ghana, but they couldn't find her 4 year old daughter to come say goodbye. The more I heard, the more my heart broke for this amazing young woman- my age- who has been through so much, staring death in the face.

At first, my prayers for her were asking for a miracle- that God would spare her. As I realized that wasn't God's plan, I started praying God would take her as soon as he could. It felt really strange, but I just didnt' want to watch this sweet girl suffer anymore. I visited each time, knowing my visits were few, but I dont think I anticipated how few.

I went down last Saturday, and saw her slipping. Her eyes rolling back in her head, her breathing much more labored than the last time I saw her, she would cry out in pain... I felt like there was nothing I could do to help her... I tried to help her get comfortable, but caused her more pain... I just held her hand. As I left, I asked if I could pray with her and she let out a labored 'Yes'. I prayed God would take her pain and give her peace.. that he would be with her and comfort her through it all. The next day, I went to see her, and she was slipping even more. My prayers got more and more intense- asking God to take her.

The day workers I talked to were all strangely hopeful... saying 'Oh! She got to deck 7 today' -leaving out that they had to get her up there using a wheel chair.. "Oh she's doing great today! She's doing so much better!!'... I asked someoen about it... worried they didn't understand the magnitude of the situation- that we'd lose her in a matter of days. She said they are just in denial... it's not a part of African culture to embrace death and comfort the dying with the attitude of dying.

Oh how I wish I would have known Sunday would be my last day with her. I kind of knew ... I left with the feeling nagging at my gut that this was it for me. I left her that day without saying goodbye. Instead, what happened was she was crying and pain, and to soothe her, I stroked her forehead- much like I do to babies or kids when I'm trying to calm them down and get them to sleep or relax. She dozed off, and once I knew she was 100% out, I left her to enjoy her sleep, which hopefully would take her mind off of all of the pain and labored breathing.

The next day, I tried getting cover for my shift so I could go see her. No one could cover/I didn't ask people that I should've. I found out the next day that even if I had gone down, I wouldn'tve been allowed to see her. I inquired on Wednesday with the ward nurse manager asking if I could sit with Chantal, but she said no. It makes sense, but it was really hard to hear. If one person who isn't directly involved with her care goes to see her, everyoen else and their mother would want to go see her as well. It was extremely hard for me to take. I understood, but didn't want to accept I would most likely never see my sweet friend's face ever again.

On Thursday, I was at community meeting, which was on the dock. My mood dampered and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I was feeling like I was struggling to hold my head above water. Lonely. Aimless. Thankfully, my friends found me and I had a night of snuggling with my favorite 4 little ones, dancing and singing with crew and some patients I've grown to love who came down. Later, I saw a doctor come down and fetch another doctor, a friend of mine, who then rannnn up the gangway. My heart dropped and I felt sick. I knew. I let go of it, but I knew. Even later, a friend came down the gangway and just started sobbing. Confirmed.

I went down the ward. The ICU door was shut and windows were blocked. Even more confirmation. Nurses buzzed around with management, the head management were talking in Reception... again... confirmed.

I wanted to hear it from someone who knew what was going on. Needed to hear it from someone and not just a rumor from someone who had no idea who she was or what that meant. I looked around and couldn't find anyone I had the heart to ask. I went to my friend Becca's room, who had some involvement with the care and would know what was going on. I asked. She confirmed. She's gone.

Part of me jumps for joy for Chantal. She's up in heaven DANCING and SINGING and walking around with no pain, no dressings, no limitations. That brings tears to my eyes thinking about it. A FREE woman. No tubes to help her eat or to breathe... she could speak without taking every ounce of energy out of her... Incredible. I'm so thankful to the Lord I know where she is and that all of the suffering is over, it's not beginning- its finished.

But deep down in me, I'm so heartbroken. I had so much hope for her when she got here. I really thought we could save her. We did, just not in the way we thought we would. I was chatting with my sister online the day before we lost Chantal, and she reminded me of something. I don't need to be this firm strong person like I seemed to think I had to be. I was ALLOWED to mourn this loss. Eventually I need to let go and just move on, but I have every right to mourn her and grieve the loss of this sweet dear friend I'd made.

Most of me during all of this was thinking this was a bit of a test for me. I am interested in Child Life- right- most of you know that, but I've been challenged by the though of doing more critical cases- terminal or risky care- something like Hematology, Oncology, Emergency. I was thinking this would be a case where I test out how it is to be emotionally involved with a patient and lose them... a bit morbid thinking, but true. I realize that no case is going to be the same. It'll always be different. Things here are a little more intense because we're facing situations every day that would be a rare case at home. I mean come on- 16lb tumors being removed frequently would get you on the news at home, here it's our reality and our daily life. I know at home I'll get attached to patients and go through very similar cases with them as I have with Chantal, but I can't really decide if I'm cut out for that based on this one case. I just have to see what God wants for me when that time comes to pick a specialty- I've got about 2 years before I have to make that choice.... I just need to live day by day and let go of all of that worry.

I felt really amazed when I heard what happened in the final hours of Chantal's life. The nurses went way out of their way to try toget her some fresh air because she said she wanted to feel the wind on her face. They got permission from the Captain to open the pilot's entrance. This is where we let on someone while either coming into or leaving the port who helps direct us out safely. It is on the 3rd deck, where the hospital is, and it is right down near the water. I heard that it was a beautiful time. She sang songs with her nurse and Patient life friends, thanking God for all he has done. They wheeled her back to her room and in a matter of minutes she said, "Jesus is here, Jesus is here" and she passed away. They all said those final moments were so stunning and beautiful- not filled with fear and pain, but peace and hope. It really helps me knowing that she went out well.

It hits me a bit every day that I will never see my friend's beautiful face again. I will never hold her hand. I will never get to pray with her or kiss her cheek. But, she's up in heaven now looking over all of us and partying with Jesus... it's just amazing. I feel like there's a hole in my heart, but God has really comforted me, allowed time for me to let it all out and given me songs and words to help me through.

She lived an amazing life. I can only hope that when my time comes, those around me can look at my death as something beautiful. Sad, sure, but I hope I have a legacy of being a fighter and a warrior, like Chantal. I look forward to seeing her again one day in heaven... of that I am sure:)

I love and miss you, my dear dear friend...

<3 Michelle Joy

1 comment:

  1. Michelle - You should be proud of the way that you are living and the way that you are using your life to help others. When people hear your beautiful name they think of your beautiful face and all of the wonderful things that you have done and that you are going to do. You are already a fighter and a warrior and you will definitely see your sweet friend again in heaven.

    I am so sorry that you are feeling such hurt but I hope that your pain is eased knowing that you were a good friend to her and that you helped make her time there better.

    Love You Sweet Girl - Aunt Judy