1. Dossett, Meghann C. BSN


When love doesn't seem very loving.


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A pale, gray-haired man lay on the bed. A tall, thin woman stood at his bedside, one hand gripping the rail, her lips drawn tightly and her brow furrowed. Not a single white hair escaped from the bun pinned at the back of her head, and her navy cardigan was buttoned all the way to her neck.


"Good morning; my name is Meghann," I said brightly. "I'm a student nurse and I'll be taking care of Mr. Briggs this morning, if that's okay with you both."


"Yes, that is what I hear," said Ms. Briggs, examining me from head to toe. "I suppose it will be fine." She straightened the already straight sheets over her husband, who stared blankly at me, then at her, but said nothing.


"He has dialysis at 11:15," she said, "so we will have to get his bath done directly. He needs clean sheets today as well."


"I will get some towels and bed linens then," I replied, turning to leave.


"No!!" Ms. Briggs said fiercely. "I don't need towels, only sheets."


When I returned with the sheets, she had already filled the bath basin with warm water and was laying out the towels and fresh clothes. I added hot water and liquid soap to the basin and moved to the opposite side of the bed as she undressed him, brusquely folding his clothes on the end of the bed.


"Are you ready for a bath then?" I asked Mr. Briggs. "May I wash your face?" He looked up at me, then ever so slightly tilted his head back, pushed out his neck, and closed his eyes.


"I always give him his bath," Ms. Briggs said, "but the nurse said that I should let you today." I slowly worked my way down his body. Impatient, Ms. Briggs grabbed one of his arms and his hip and hauled him over on his side. The bones of his rib cage, spine, and hips were visible beneath his papery skin.


"Mind you get his back really well," she said. "He sweats, and I don't want his skin getting itchy and sore."


"Is that good?" I asked, as I scrubbed his back a second time.


"Yes, that's fine." She reached over and took the cloth out of my hands, letting her husband tumble back onto the bed. She roughly but expertly ran the washcloth over his arm and scrubbed his armpit again.


"Come on, he's going to be here any minute," she said to her husband. Dipping the washcloth into the cooling bath water, she pulled the sheets back and scrubbed between his legs, making no attempt at privacy.


I looked away, pretending to ready the clean sheets to change the bed.


As Ms. Briggs was sliding the socks back on her husband's feet, the orderly arrived to take him to his dialysis appointment.


"Careful!! His skin is very fragile," fretted Ms. Briggs as the orderly gently guided Mr. Briggs's legs to the side of the bed. They were spindle thin, with scabs and hematomas marring the skin. He took the step to the wheelchair with great effort and collapsed into the seat.


Ms. Briggs placed her hand on his shoulder as he was being wheeled away. He reached up to touch her fingers.


"Bye," she said.


"See you later," he said.


When they were gone, Ms. Briggs started to rip the sheets from the mattress.


"Here, let me do that," I said.


She dropped the sheets and stared at me coldly.


"All right, then," she said, watching as I made the bed, unable to resist stepping in several times to smooth or retuck a sheet.


"Is there anything you want me to get Mr. Briggs before I go?" I asked.


Her eyes darted around the room, as if trying to find something wrong, but all she said was a quiet "no" as she turned her back to me.


I asked, "Do you need anything?"


She spun back around. The expression on her face was strange, almost puzzled, and in that second I understood that Ms. Briggs wasn't a severe, mean-spirited woman-she was terrified and exhausted. Every night she slept in a hard chair, afraid to leave her husband's side, afraid she'd get a phone call in the middle of the night.


She gave me the faintest smile. "No," she said. "Thank you, though."