One week into a three week “staycation,” I enjoyed drinking coffee on the loveseat with my husband, holding his hand and pondering life. We sat in comfortable silence, but an inner turbulence unsettled me. He tapped his foot to some inaudible percussion.
“I’ve got two weeks of vacation left, and I already dread going back to work,” I blurted without thinking, without self-editing.
His foot stilled. “Then don’t,” he said.
I thought about all the steps involved in retirement. Phone calls, a resignation letter, insurance changes, talking to my supervisor, cleaning out my locker. Saying “good-bye” to the place where I worked for over forty years. Daunting tasks, but manageable.
Then I realized I would have to find a new identity to replace the person who woke up at 4 a.m. on the days she worked and didn’t get home until 7:30 p.m. I would have to give up some things and find replacements for them.
I would not miss worshiping at the new altar known as the computer. I would not miss nurses who formed committees to preserve their right to wear nail polish, yet refused to shave male patients. I would not miss doctors forced to abdicate their compassion and patient-centered care for protocols, statistics and billing codes. I would not miss being called a dinosaur for knowing anti-seizure medication had once been used to treat cardiac arrhythmias. And I had seen it work.
What I had to “let go” of, and what I would miss, would be the ten-year-out transplant patient, a man tall and lean and always in a white cowboy hat, who, no matter where he saw me, would hug me, thank me and reminisce about the time we shared. Or the woman who arrested while sitting in her chair, waiting for a room on the telemetry floor. We successfully resuscitated her. She sought me out weeks later and exclaimed, “I never understood what nurses did!” I will miss exchanging books with a patient, one I’d written for the one he had. I will miss an octogenarian, telling me about his adult son with a catastrophic brain injury who was finally well enough to manage his own apartment.
I will miss the privilege of sharing life with people at their most vulnerable.
I bid my old self adieu and search for a me who is new.