At work yesterday I walked into the room of one of my patients in response to his call light, asked him how I could help, smiled and looked him in the eye, as usual. Overcome with emotion, tears sprang to his eyes as he explained that he just felt so anxious and overwhelmed at learning a few moments ago that the surgeon would be amputating his big toe today. He had known he was having surgery, but not until today had they mentioned amputation.

“It’s just a toe, but still. It’s part of my body,” he said.

I stopped what I was doing, came around to the bedside and placed a hand gently on his shoulder. I looked into his eyes and told him that I understood and I was sorry. And while I have always been an empathetic person, easily able to put myself in another’s shoes, now I actually do completely understand what it feels like to have a part of your body amputated.

I shared with him that I too had recently had part of my body amputated. Both my breasts, in fact. A bilateral mastectomy.

Breasts are not the same as legs, arms, feet or toes. In some ways they seem less important, and in some ways even more. Breasts are perhaps the most defining characteristic of the female body. And yet seven weeks post op, no one even knows I have “robo-boobs” unless I lift up my shirt (which thankfully my job neither requires nor allows).

I don’t even mention it to most patients. Unless they notice me struggling to reach up above my head. Or unless it seems fitting or important to share. My own pain, my own experience as a patient, will make me a better nurse.

So much more I want to share, but another 12-hour shift beckons, and it’s been so long since I have even posted anything, that I figured something is better than nothing. More to come. I promise.

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