To Porche Laronda Washington –

You’ve been on my mind, and maybe not for the reasons you think. I have no doubt you have heard plenty of condemnation from so many people around you. People you know, people you don’t know. People who know you, people who think they know you, people who don’t know you at all.

I have never met you. I have only seen your name, age, and a brief description about your life, which really is none of my business. They said you were scared. I’m sure you were. I’m sure you must be now, and my heart goes out to you. I wish I could come and find you, take your hands in mine, look you in the eye, and tell you “There is hope for you.”

I don’t know your life, so I am just imagining. It seems you grew up in a rougher part of town. They said you were scared to deliver the baby and you wanted to hide your pregnancy from those around you. You were not expecting or planning for a child, and you clearly did not feel ready or capable to raise her. You didn’t feel that the people around you would support you enough to help you raise her. You must have felt so alone. So terribly alone in a time when you needed someone to come alongside you and say, “I won’t let you go through this alone. Let’s figure out a solution together. I will stay with you and help you.” I am so sorry that you didn’t have that in your life.

You brought this baby to term and somehow got to a hospital to deliver her. I truly give you credit for that. I am not a Labor and Delivery or Postpartum nurse, but I wonder what might have changed if a sensitive, compassionate nurse read some note of despair in your eyes during your brief hospital stay, and took the time to sit down with you and draw out from you how you truly felt about having this baby. Could someone have changed something for you in that moment? Told you you could leave the baby at that very hospital where she was born, without repercussion? I have to be honest and tell you that I will never fully understand why you left her in that crevice. I don’t know what was going through your heart and mind. Shame? Relief? Disappointment – in the most profound sense – in life, in the people around you, in the baby’s father, in yourself? I imagine you felt so afraid. What if someone had been with you in those moments to help sort through all the conflicting voices and emotions, to tell you “I won’t let you go through this alone. You don’t have to do this. Let’s figure out a solution together.” I am so sorry you didn’t have anyone who could do that for you in that private moment between you and your baby at the Riverbed. I am so sorry.

Have you been told, through many voices and circumstances, that your own life was so invaluable, so easily discarded, so disregarded at the end of the day, that this was the lens through which you saw your baby? I can only wonder how this all might have played out differently if someone in your life had told you, “You are worth it. Your life, as hard as it might be, is worth something. YOU are worth something.” I wonder if you would have had a different kind of ability to feel that for yourself and your baby in that private moment at the Compton Riverbed. If it would have been enough to help you gather the strength and courage to pick her up from that crevice and move forward to figure out a different solution.

You’ve now been arrested and are facing serious legal charges. Do you still feel so tremendously alone? Shame heaped upon shame? Oh…dear Porche. I’m sorry I know your name under these circumstances. You surely wanted to be known for so many other reasons than this. Porche Laronda Washington. I am sorry for all that drove you to this place. You have deeply painful consequences to face for the decision you made at that Riverbed, but I want you to know that you are still worth something. God Himself extends such compassion and grace to you through Jesus… and sometimes it can be so hard to receive this kind of unconditional love when perhaps all you have known is anything but that. But that does not make it any less real, or any less available. There is grace for your life. Yes, even yours. Even now. Please know this. You are not alone and there is grace. Even now.

A Shared Sense of Rest

She was not my patient, but I had briefly met her earlier in the day, and my co-worker asked if I might be free to go in her room and just be with her awhile while my co-worker caught up on charting. The patient was having an anxiety attack, and the Ativan we had given her was not relieving her. I entered her room and saw that her family member, resting on the side, was also clearly not well. There was so much story in that room. So much loyalty. So much suffering. So much celebration of the patient’s recent birthday despite the suffering. So much medical equipment. So much brought from home in an attempt to bring home to the hospital. There was just so much in that room.

The TV was on, but at low volume. I introduced myself to the patient and asked if I could just stand next to her and hold her hand. She graciously accepted with a weak but sweet voice, slipped her hand into mine, and closed her eyes. It must have been five minutes, perhaps ten. Not a lot of time. But we were both so comfortable with the quiet, and I could have stayed there into the evening, just quiet, with her. She only broke the silence to ask me how she was doing. I told her I wasn’t familiar enough with her background to say, and asked how she thought she was doing. “Still weak,” she said. “Your body has been fighting hard,” I told her. She nodded and closed her eyes again.

Our beloved Child Life Specialist then entered with the most lovely, thoughtful birthday gifts for the patient. The patient opened each gift, and her weak, sweet eyes lit up with each one. “Thank you so much,” she said. It felt so good to celebrate her birthday, her life, with her and the Child Life Specialist. Acknowledging that the day she was born into this courageous fight that would be her life….was a beautiful, important day, worthy to be celebrated.

After the Child Life Specialist left, I stayed a few more minutes, and then asked the patient if she felt ok enough for me to step out of the room. She nodded yes, then looked at me and said, “Thank you for being quiet here with me.” I thanked her in return. It was a privilege.

For a few days, I couldn’t pinpoint why that brief encounter made such a deep impact on me, beyond the obvious ache stirred in seeing a patient’s suffering, as her family member physically suffered in the room as well. Finally it occurred to me, it had to do with the profound power of that quiet shared presence, both for her and for me.

It sounds cliché but it always remains true. We enter into healthcare truly wanting to help others, to relieve their suffering. Yet I realized that most of my shifts, I feel that what I do for, or rather to, my patients as their nurse, actually contributes to their suffering, even though I know in my head that much of this is necessary in the long run for their healing. Needle pricks, in-line suctioning, repositioning, hourly neurological checks that severely disrupt sleep, procedures. I am often rushed, stressed, feeling anything but quiet for them. Feeling anything but truly present with them. They are in their world, and I am in mine. We meet but we don’t really meet.

But that afternoon, I was able to share with this patient what I think she and I both really longed for. An assurance beyond words that neither of us would feel the aches in our hearts alone, regarding her condition, for at least a brief period of time. That we would give and receive from each other this shared quiet, this shared sense of rest from all the fighting that we all do in this hospital every day. It was truly a gift, something I hope to share with more of my patients in the days and years ahead.