The night you died I came to your house.
You and I were twenty-something and you had made it your goal months ago to reach your next birthday. Your body was broken and you bled a lot.
I’d come because your syringe driver, which was giving you medications to manage your nausea and pain, had fallen and was beeping at you.
I arrived to 40 or 50 very, very happy people celebrating the coming of your birthday. I walked into your room expecting to see you in bed where you usually were. You weren’t in bed.
You literally danced down the hall towards me with the biggest grin I have ever seen. You handed me a bottle of coke because I had to “toast your birthday” and “stop looking so conspicuous”.
Hip-hop group ‘House of Pain’ pounded from the sub woofers in your usually quiet house: “Jump around, jump around, jump up and get down! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!”.
Your eyes sparkled. You looked so incredibly happy, indescribably happy.
As I replaced your syringe driver your nose began to bleed again. I squirted some special medicine up there to try to stop it.
A countdown began, your friends and family shouting 10, 9, 8, 7… as you neared your next birthday. A roar of celebration erupted, you were so proud you had done it, you had reached this milestone.
I hung around as your nose was still dripping and I saw you wince, it was a split second wince but I saw it. Bleeding wasn’t new for you but I had that feeling in my gut that told me I needed to stay.
You sat on that massive lazy boy chair on the deck, next to your dog, nodding your head to the rhythm of Vanilla Ice, Snoop Dogg and Marley. You looked so happy and well in your flat peak hat, skate shoes and jeans.
I checked your emergency meds in the fridge. When I returned you were drowsy and a little cold. Five of your mates carried you to your bed. You teased them loudly on the way telling them how weak they were and that you could carry all of them by yourself.
I asked if you were in pain or uncomfortable you said, “nah”. You complained the music wasn’t loud enough so your mates brought the stereo to you and continued your party in your room.
You grinned, a massive grin, and showed them with a flick of your head that they had done well. I offered you water from a straw, you chose instead to sip your mates beer and look at us cheekily like you had done something so rebellious!
I watched your breathing change – it slowed and then looked like a goldfish might look, which we call neural breathing. You looked so peaceful though. I knew your time was very short, your Mum cuddled you, your mates yelled goodbyes at you and told you that heaven would definitely have rugby, skateboards and huge waves. And then your body stopped and was still.
I didn’t go to your funeral because I don’t go to any. Your mum told me that it was another party, like you wanted it to be, like you scribbled on your advance care plan.
This is why I nurse. It’s powerful stuff, more powerful than Titanic or Gladiator or A Dog’s Purpose – all movies that bring me to tears. This is real. An amazing privilege. Something beyond our usual human connection.
We can be a small part of helping people have better lives and deaths.
Our work took months, managing his nausea and pain, supporting him and his family and friends emotionally and spiritually. These special times are what keep me going – but it is not enough fuel to keep nursing indefinitely.