Thursday, December 1, 2011


I don't know where else to put this down.
Today I helped a coworker create 4 handprints of a dying 12 year old girl.
One in clay.
Three in tempera paint.
One pink.
Two purple.
On Thanksgiving day, and the day following she was alone. 
By the door in a double room, her bedside nurse the only visitor.

She was on both contact and droplet precautions.
We were gowned and gloved, masked, and total strangers to this young girl.
We introduced ourselves, sharing who we are and why we were visiting. 
There were signs of wakefulness;
open eyes,
head movements,
arms stretching,

Her right hand was rigid and curled into a ball,
her left opening and closing, stiff at the wrist, bent at a 90 degree angle.

Creating the handprint wasn't easy.
I was nervous, but present.
Talking to her through it all.
Noticing signs of reaction,
the tickle of the paintbrush,
the temperature of the paint,
the feeling of the clay,
the pressure of our hands against hers.

After each print I showed her the paper onto which the print was made.
Her eyes wandered. 
Sometimes looking,
other times not.

Her hands were so warm.
The quilt so beautiful and colorful against her dark skin.

And no one was there, no one visiting.

After the prints were complete,
my coworker and I took turns cleaning the dark purple paint from her hands.
Wet paper towels between fingers, wiping around fingernails, removing paint from the delicate lines in her hands.
Describing all the while what we were doing,
offering comments in jest about how the purple looked nice on her nails. 
Saying things a teenager might think about purple paint on their hands.

And then cleaning the materials,
the brush, containers, the paint bottles.
Throwing away the unused paper.
Wiping the red lap-tray down with antiseptic wipes.
My glasses fogging up from the hot air sneaking out the top of my mask.

We thanked her for her participation.
Told her we'd see her later,
though I'm not sure either of us might ever see her again.

I'm supposed to work with her 8 year-old sister.
Talk about how much she's aware of what is taking place with her older sister.
Discuss her feelings and what her thoughts are.
An eight year-old I've never met.
To discuss the death of her severely compromised sister.

It's hard to find a place to put this down.
So I take deep breaths to calm my anxiety and grief.
I chose this job, this field, and I love it.
But it's heavy to carry, and I often don't know where to rest the load.

The number for the employee assistance program is saved in my inbox.

What an honor to be a part of someone's life.
If even for a moment.
To stand at their bedside, to see them, to notice, to share in an experience.
To hold their hand.
And to turn the lights off, and walk away, hoping you made a difference for someone, somehow.