If I identify myself as a musician, then I guess my “day job” would be as a Registered Nurse in a New York City Emergency Room. This doesn’t seem to be an adequate description of these roles, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll go with this for the moment. It’s complicated…
I love my job, and it has turned out to be a good fit for me, but it was something I came to late in life. I went to nursing school at the age of 45, as a way to develop “a second career” that would subsidize my music. Like most things in life, it didn’t turn out to be quite so simple. I didn’t fully understand the powerfully intimate human connection that happens between two people when one is in such a desperate state of vulnerable need and the other one is professionally trained to care for and alleviate suffering. I didn’t understand what it would mean to take an active part in so much death.
With the exception of hospice nurses (where death is the expected outcome), I’m not sure there are many other professions where death becomes such a routine part of your job. It’s a great privilege to be part of a highly skilled team trained to save someone’s life – but it feels strangely unnatural for another human to die while your hands are still on them, working to keep them alive. And when they’re gone, you are expected to simply move on to your other patients, as if this is the most normal thing in the world.
But it’s not normal.
I always try to take a moment after the team agrees to call “a time of death,” to quietly honor the life of this stranger in my mind. I have no idea who they were or what kind of person they had been. I just try to honor them as a human being who had lived a life and now their time was up.