A Teacher On the Path

One day, back in the mid-seventies, I was bit by a rabid cat. When I got to work that morning, my boss happened to be on the phone. So, I went to the back to see if anything had come in overnight. In the middle cage, in a room little bigger than a closet, was a small Siamese cat.

A big mistake

I thought I was looking at a sleeping cat, when in fact what I was seeing was a stuporous cat. That was a young, inexperienced and deadly misjudgment. His posture was subtle, but a keener eye would have spotted his hunched position and dull half open eyes. A less impulsive veteran would have stood and watched for a while. But that’s not what I did.

I put my right index finger through the cage bars and made that little kissing sound. He hit my finger so hard, so fast, I thought he’d taken it clean off. The force was swift and surreal.

The back story

Owned by a single mom with two little kids, he’d come in “sick”. I think one of the kids had gotten scratched. This pretty Siamese boy had tangled with a skunk prior and had been sick for some days before coming in. Two days after he bit me, he died. He wasn’t vaccinated for rabies.

When the lab called with the “positive for rabies” results, I got the news first. That same day I started what was the current rabies protocol at that time as did the mom and her kids. Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system via the bite/saliva of an infected animal.

The information highway (sort of)

My healthcare providers gave me all the information they could. And, I also got a lot of input from well-meaning friends. Things they’d heard or something someone told them. (No internet in those days). I listened to everyone’s counsel and noted it all. I also trusted my healthcare team and really didn’t have any fears. I did have a few issues along the way, but thankfully, I was able to ride through them. I didn’t even miss any work. (Ah, youth). The saving factor for me, though, was an angel disguised as a nurse.

The process began

The rabies protocol included injections made from chick embryo that were given subcutaneously. And, since they knew the cat was positive for rabies, they also gave two intramuscular injections made from horse serum. The pain from those two injections was other worldly.

The series of injections were twenty-six in total, given every day in succession. The horse serum injections were given one in each arm midway through the series. Depending on what time I began work that day, I could go to the doctor’s office for my daily injection and then go on to work from there. But, if I needed to get an earlier start I’d go to Enid’s house. That’s where I went on weekends too.

 The nurse

Enid was my nurse. She was the one who treated me every day. On Saturday’s and Sunday’s, just like the occasional early morning, we worked out a schedule around her personal life. Like, after church on Sundays. I would go to the house where she and her husband had raised a family that was now grown and gone.

It was a lovely two-story Victorian, beautifully decorated in fine Victorian antiques, exquisite furniture and deliciously smelling of lavender and fresh flowers. Spotless doesn’t begin to describe. In contrast, I was usually in work gear:  boots, flannel shirt and heavy work pants. Her floral couch is where I laid for her to give my injections.

Firm but oh, so gentle

Afterward, she’d ask how I felt. I always said fine, no problem and was ready to roll. But she smiled and said how much better it would be if I just sat there and relaxed for just a bit. Magically, a plate of cookies and glass of cold milk would appear. And she’d sit down next to me and we’d chat. She was fascinated by my work with animals. She’d never known a young woman with my interests, she said, and she’d been a nurse for a long time. So, I’d retell stories of farm calls and soak up the smell of flowers in the room. Enid did compassionate listening every day through the whole regime. Pure love comin’ my way!

I once asked a bird, “How do you fly in this gravity of darkness?” And she replied, “Love lifts me up.”   ~ Hafiz (Hafez)

Days long gone

That was a long time ago. Enid has been gone for many years. But I can feel her smile and caring energy like it was yesterday. For her, it was natural to care about my whole self. My wellbeing. She delivered insightful, conscious caregiving.

I don’t remember if there was formal training offered back then for palliative care. Healthcare at that time didn’t really tune in to address someone’s quality of life at any stage. Enid was doing palliative care intuitively.

Goodness on a cellular level

Intuitively she was speaking from her heart. Intuitively she was listening from her heart. And, yes, these are ingredients that make up being a good nurse. But Enid took it to a level of looking at me as a complete picture. Me as a whole. My mind, body, spirit.

The entire ordeal, going through treatment for rabies exposure from a confirmed case, was a big deal at that time. Part of the reason I cruised through was, no doubt, due to the cocky defiance of youth. Youth = I’m tough. I’m invincible. But the truth is, I benefitted from the quiet confidence and reassuring nature that was Enid. In her long career she’d never had to treat anyone who’d been directly injured from a rabid animal. If she was nervous, she never let it show. I felt completely safe.

Heads down, pushing forward

There are those special ones, human nurses and non-human nurses, who have that intuitive ability. That special sauce that it takes to be the one who cares for others mind, body, spirit. It’s who they are.

They’re still around. It’s just that now, human and non-human nurses alike, are getting the shit kicked out of them. Time is not always their friend. The public is not always their friend. Their bosses and institutions are not always their friend. And they aren’t always a friend to each other. You can only stretch a rubber band so far.

Carry me over
If you’re a healer
‘Cause I don’t know how long
I’m gonna be here
Tear me down
If you can spare my soul
Give me a reason to carry on
Carry on   ~
Greg Churchill/Sarah Joyce

But by their footsteps I go

Human and non-human patients alike are receiving palliative care today by professionals who are walking in the footsteps of nurses like Enid. Compassionate, intuitive, delivering care from the heart.

I don’t believe in serendipity. It was meant for me to meet her and have that example set in front of me early on. I got a chance to see what it looks like. I got to see the real deal.