So I buried the dog the other day. She died of old age.
Misconception #1: It shouldn’t take that large of a hole to bury a 35-pound dog. I was mistaken. Needless to say, I hacked away at the ground for an hour and had blisters before the hole was large and deep enough.
Misconception #2: I thought burying her would be no big deal, as there was no love lost between us.
My spouse had this dog before we were married, and I suspect, from the dog’s viewpoint, I was always the woman who “replaced” her at his side. We’ve spent the last 13 years giving each other the evil eye, so to speak. Since I was the only one home when I discovered her in the back yard, the chore of taking care of her body fell to me.
It WAS a big deal…that had nothing to do with the dog, and everything to do with black plastic bags.
It’s been at least 5 years since I’ve had to deal with death in an up-close-and-personal manner in the clinical setting. But before that time, I handled my fair share of dead bodies. Working high-acuity trauma/ER and NICU provide more of those opportunities than most other areas.
And body bags are black. And plastic.
It’s strange what will trigger latent memories out of nowhere. I wrapped the dog up in a couple plastic bags in order to get her across the yard, and as I was doing so, I suddenly felt dizzy, nauseated, and started choking on sobs as snippets of various memories having to do with dead human bodies and black plastic bags came flashing back through my mind.
In the healthcare arena, we’re in the business of fighting death, holding it off until the last possible second. Perhaps those who work in hospice have a different perspective, I don’t know. But the specialties in which I’ve worked have usually involved going to the most extreme measures to keep death at bay. I’ve participated in countless code situations, and run VADs and ECMO machines until the scales of life decide to tip one way or the other.
Many times I’ve wanted to shout out against death, like Hawkeye did in one M.A.S.H. episode, “Don’t let the bastard win!”
I won’t go into gory details about what flashed through my mind the other day. Suffice to say, I now understand something about myself that I did not know previously.
I HATE death.
My stoic demeanor in the past regarding death has belied the post-traumatic imprints made on my mind by the repeated exposure to death’s victories. I apparently have PTSD in some form, and I plan on dealing with the issues that have been brought to my attention with these events.
So, don’t let the sleeping dogs lie. Don’t push the emotions down, and pretend they don’t exist, while latent memories continue to entrench grief or fear into the mind. I plan on following up this post with statistics, definitions of PTSD, and links to helpful websites and information, but for now, I hope the story of my recent experience will encourage other nurses and healthcare providers to be willing to address their own personal repercussions of the difficult, and often discouraging, profession in which we labor.