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My Raison D’Etre

a blog by Traci Shahan, RN, WHNP-BC, Doctor of Nursing, Albrecht Women’s Care Denver IVF, April 16, 2012

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Last week after their embryo transfer, I sat with a patient whom we will call Letty and her husband whom we will call Sam. Letty was resting on the table, snuggled under a light blanket, before they would make the long drive back home. Letty’s eyes are the color of good dark chocolate; they hover in her face like twin full moons. Her hair is a mane of ebony and she is Mensa-smart, but I doubt that she has ever inquired about joining due to her modesty. Letty and Sam should start their own chapter of Mensa, knowing them as I do.

During their medication review a few weeks ago, Letty and Sam asked the most amazing questions, questions that I have never encountered in all my years of doing this. At the end of the appointment, Sam, who is a computer whiz of some kind, looked over the enumerated plan that I had printed from the computer just moments before and said, without a hint of hubris, "Traci, I’ll email a spreadsheet to you. You can change it to fit all of your patients’ different plans. This (he spread his hands, palms up, head shaking ever so slightly, and looked at me boggle-eyed) is too confusing. You need spreadsheets to simplify when and how to take all of these medicines." Letty rolled her eyes, then smiled at him and said to no one in particular, "This is my life with him — spread sheets and organization, and I do neither very well."

After the transfer, we chatted about which medications to take — Sam checking off items on the spread sheet that he had carried in his left breast pocket. We all looked out the window for a bit at the cerulean sky that only Colorado offers because of its altitude. Spring was offering up her first fruits — a flash of pink tulips here, a frenzy of pansies there. The only audible sound was that of the ventilation system, quietly seeping white noise. I’ve learned over the years that it’s OK to simply be with people and especially patients. Despite the overwhelming American preference for extroverts and gabbing, I love silence, which affords healing, contemplation and a deeper understanding of certain situations than can ever be gleaned from gab. So I sat, Letty lay supine, Sam perched on the stool beside her.

Finally Sam spoke. "The spreadsheets worked pretty well, but you have a very hard profession — you cannot organize meetings and appointments like I can months in advance. You have to be flexible and resilient. In I.T. we plan months in advance. You? You roll with life. Like last week when we thought her retrieval would be on Tuesday, but it was Wednesday instead. This kind of thing is impossible in my field. I already have meetings scheduled in Europe nine months from now, and I am finishing the papers this weekend that I will present. But you, you never really know what’s going to happen and when, do you?"

Letty spoke. She turned her moon eyes to look at me, softly. I thought she might cry. Instead she asked a simple question in a hushed voice, almost a whisper, "Why do you do what you do? I mean, you guys are always here. You return my calls right away. I actually look forward to coming to my office visits. Why do you do this?"

In tandem, Sam and Letty looked at me, expectantly. It didn’t take long; I have long known why I work in this field that is notorious for having the highest burn-out rate for nurses, save for oncology. Because I get to help people through one of the hardest chapters in life; I am a shepherd, a guide, to those who have had the misfortune to know what it’s like to go home each evening to a quiet, well-ordered home, when all one wishes for is to be met with bedlam, a driveway of detritus of Tonka trucks, pink bikes with training wheels, the gate to the back yard, gaping open like an absent front tooth. Because I can think of no higher honor than when helping whip-smart people like Letty and Sam who place their trust in us to help coax forth nothing short of a miracle. Because when I work alongside patients, I get to experience the best and most enchanting moments that life has to offer — that of service to those who are desperate to have the privilege to become parents.

I stood up to help Letty off of the table so that she could dress and go home. She was crying. I know her tears all too well. And that is why I do what I do.

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