Anger, Peace, and Restful Sleep

Before I worked on 6W full-time the fall of 1991, I spent the summer working on an oncology unit.  For some reason, I felt the need to work among those walking towards death.  There was a sense of romantic intensity to it all… something I cannot explain other than it felt like it was where I belonged.  The day I met Mr. Kessler, I knew I was right where I should be.
 
I have always been a trouble-seeker.  Peaceful quiet has always been very unsettling to me… I always hated NOT knowing when something was going to be thrown at me, slicing me to shattering pieces.  This waiting for expected doom to hit has always been too huge an anxiety for me to withstand, so I taught myself how to control my need to contain catastrophe:  I'd go hunting for it.  Like some freak with an Elmer Fud hunter‘s cap and cork-sealed rifle, I would hunt for the biggest, meanest piece of trouble I could find, and I then I'd try to tame it.  Even if I got mauled, it didn't matter because in my mind I always knew what I was doing -- I was trying to use my stupid bravery in a way so the bad would not seem so bad and dangerous.  
 
People who know me know behind every action of mine, there is a wish to seek a greater good.  My biggest problem has been this: I lack a normal sense of fear.  I have learned this approach makes me look STUPID, irresponsible, insane, selfish, hurtful, or head-strong and determined.
 
Enter the Kessler family, and the stupid thing I did one day...
 
 
Mr. Kessler had stomach cancer.  He was one big angry nasty mean son of a bitch NO ONE dared to go near, unless absolutely necessary.  That’s all I needed:  a name.  A name, a room number, I was good to go hunting for some Mr. K.
 
I was warned.  Several times, by several staff-members they would say, “Be careful, don’t start trouble, just stay out…  you don’t belong in the same room as him, so stay away!”
 
“Huh?”
 
I was warned…sure... but how bad could it be? I’ll just poke my head-in to see what’s the big deal.
 
First time I saw him, the big ol’ bear was sleeping.  OK… I saw the size, and yes it was large and looming, and his snoring did sound like a growl, but I knew I could handle him.  Mr Kessler did not scare me like he did the others.  When I told the other nurses, "He doesn't look so bad.", they looked at me like I was crazy, and laughed.
 
The next day I headed down to his corner of the floor.  He was given the largest single-room on the floor, because he scared the bejeebies out of everyone.  He was Safe down there.  Meaning, the nursing staff was much safer keeping him as far away from them as possible whilst being within the confines of the oncology unit.  I felt bad for the guy.  He had cancer.  He was scared, and everyone kept away from him.  WHY DO PEOPLE DO THAT?
 
I walked towards his room, saw he was awake, and before I was standing fully in the room, I realized something was thrown AT me.  <SPLAT!>
 
Juice.  Grape.  White uniform.  NICE!
 
I did the only thing I could do...  I greeted him with the biggest smile and sarcastic cheery voice I could summon and said, “Good MORNING Sunshine!  What a warm and wonderful way to greet me!”
 
Keep in mind, I was 21... I had youth, long blond hair, a thin girly body and a short skirt all going in my favor… and my bubble-gum pink stethoscope said, "I may look innocent, but I know my shit, and YOU Sir, do not scare me."  I knew what I was doing.  Within minutes I was taking his blood-pressure and asking him questions about his food intake, and pain tolerance.  His face looked mean and angry, so I knew what I had to do.  Before he knew it, I was making fun of him, and by the look on his face, I could see he loved it.  I touched him... using my voice then my hands, my warped mind and heart was able to touch him in a way that made him feel like I was Safe.  I understood he was angry and in pain, and he knew I thought that was fine and normal.  What transpired after that, I still cannot put into words.  It was a Living Story of Recovery, one that was unfolding on the 4th floor of a local hospital.  I was a no-body who changed the life of a family I never knew.  It was not long before Mrs Kessler nick-named me, “My husband’s favorite little girl-friend”.  That I was… and I liked the title very much, because it was said with warmth and kindness, not weird jealousy. I became his friend, simply because I would not let his anger intimidate me or keep me from doing my job.  I knew my limits, I knew what I was walking into, and I knew he was scared out of his skull.  This was a man who needed to bridge the gap between pain and grief ; loss and life... and he needed someone to not take his words and reactions always so seriously.  For the Kessler Family, that bridge towards resolution was leading them to a funeral, so finding peace was on a very limited time-schedule.  It was heartbreaking seeing them slowly come to terms with all that was happening to each one in that family.   [It was very clear they had some serious family issues that needed to be resolved while he was still alive.]  As his nurse, I was able to give comic relief and the privacy they needed to grieve a past and future that could not be changed.
 
I never stayed beyond my simple tasks, especially if they were in the middle of a quiet discussion.  However, I always made his room the first and last visit of my shift… just so he knew I was There and I was Leaving.
 
As much as I grew to adore grumpy-bear Kessler, it was his wife who touched me the most.  One day, before his death, she pulled me aside in the hall, and said in her scratchy smoker’s voice, “What you did was a miracle.  You brought me back my husband, and you brought back the father to my sons.  You helped make us a family again, so we could say ’I love you’, and mean it with our good-byes.”
 
To say Good-Bye, and mean it with “I Love You.”  Letting go with love, not hate or anger. With death comes new life.  At the time, I couldn't imagine such a thing, but I knew by the tears on her face it was a beautiful gift no one in that family was expecting.
 
The Kessler’s taught me change during pain is possible, once the anger is let out, and the deliberate conversations begin… The Kesslers taught me anger can lead to peace and problems can lead to resolutions.  The Kesslers taught me the meaning behind "Rest in Peace"... a wish for the living and the dead.
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