Trau·ma  Junk· ie  ( 'trau-m&  'j&[ng]-kE) n. Slang
  1. One who has an insatiable interest, devotion or addiction to responding and assisting people with serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident.

The Ballad of Edward and Marie: Part I

"Marie, would pass me that stupid remote already? I promise I won't accidentally call the nurse this time, but my Cowboys are playing on TV."

"In a MINUTE, Edward. You know 'Days of Our Lives' reruns on Sunday."

"Hmph...Days of Our Lives. If that was anything like real life...," Edward said mockingly, stopping mid-sentence as he noticed I was in the room.

As I stood there in the room trying to take Marie's vital signs, I listened to their spat. They were both pushing 90, so it was almost adorable in a sense to hear them bicker like cats and dogs, because in some strange way you could hear the love behind their words. Sure, they fought, but it was never ugly. They were the couple you looked at and knew they were soulmates.

Edward and Marie were high school sweethearts. Shortly after graduating, like most men of his age during the time, Edward was drafted into the service. He spent two years in Germany and loved it, but it was the hardest part of Marie's life, as she'd tell any complete stranger who was willing to listen.

Edward returned home in the fall of 1950, somewhat a changed man. But his new outlook on life and his increased maturity never changed his feelings for "his Marie." They married a month later.

"Mrs. Connolly, I need to check your blood pressure and your temperature," I said, speaking up softly during a pause in their little conversation.

"Oh please dear, I'm Marie to you guys." Her voice was so pleasant, so calm, for someone in her situation. Years of smoking had finally taken its toll on Marie. She was in with stage IV lung cancer that had, unfortunately, metastasized to her brain. A sad, but very real, reality of working in healthcare is that you see truly good people pass away, and it can often be the demise of their own lifestyle choices.

She knew this as well as we all did. She preached to every single one of us about not smoking, and even convinced her grandson to quit. Prior to being diagnosed with the big C, Mrs. Connolly was the healthiest person I've ever known. I was convinced in a lot of ways that she was in better health that I am, and she had a good seventy years on me. Edward was the same way.

Reality never quite hit Edward as it had Marie and the rest of the family. Even the words "terminal cancer," coupled with the fact that his beloved was placed on Hospice for palliative care, never quite seemed to phase him. You see, to Edward, Marie was a Superwoman of sorts. He'd jokingly say things like, "Hell, she raised five kids and worked two jobs just because she enjoyed being busy. This is nothing she can't overcome." Until one night in particular...

Slowly but surely, Marie's health did in fact steadily decline. Day by day, her labs were looking worse and she was becoming paler, frailer, and less vibrant. On a bleak and dreary night, mid-October, Marie took a turn for the worst.

Likely the result of the fact that she wasn't eating, wasn't drinking fluids, and refusing her medications (I can't blame her...they made her sicker than a dog), Marie called us into the room. She looked intently at Edward, then at the nurses, CNAs, and myself.

"My babies, I think it is time soon. I don't have the fight left in me."

Oddly enough, by the next morning, Marie was nonverbal and unresponsive to any sort of stimuli. She was still breathing, but every single breath she took, we were convinced it would be her last. She was struggling, and blatantly miserable. Edward didn't know what to do. He was her rock, her guidance, and her hope...now all he could talk about was how he was losing it too.

I pulled Edward aside for a brief moment. It was one of the hardest moments I've ever had in the short time I spent as a CNA with hospice. I placed my hand on his shoulder, exhaling deeply, trying to put my words together. Without much thought, I spoke to him from my heart.

"Mr. Connolly, erm...Edward? You are doing all that you can, and so are we. I don't want you to let go, but she wants to hear something from you. At her core, she wants to know that you will be okay."

I thought about how ridiculous I was sounding. I stopped for a second to recollect my thoughts. I knew it in my mind to be the truth, but I didn't want to seem like a know-it-all or a mind-reader, because this just wasn't the case. I was all of 21 years young, but I've been on this side of the dying process for years, and have seen it more times than I can count.

Much to my surprise, Edward nodded, his voice trembling as he spoke: "I know, son. I really do. But she's my Marie..."

There were no words that could make this any better for him. Instead, I nodded in understanding and let him know with my eyes that I was there for the both of them. As Edward walked back into the room, he gently motioned for us to leave. As I walked slowly out the door, I saw him reach for her hand.

None of us know what Edward said to his wife on that day, nor will we ever. When the nurse and I re-entered the room about an hour later to round on Mrs. Connolly, we found her with no pulse, no longer struggling to breathe. Edward said it just happened seconds ago. He wasn't struggling to fight back tears, nor was he trying to be tough. He was being real.

And this is one of the more difficult parts of a career in medicine. Good people die, and you carry them with you. You touch their lives just as they have touched yours. There's a "Marie" inside each of us that work in this field.

Edward returned home to an empty house for the first time in almost sixty years. His family told us he was oddly calm, or that maybe it just hadn't hit him yet. But we knew he'd be okay. Or so we hoped...

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