I work as a home hospice nurse. For those of you who have only heard of my profession, I’m the one who comes into your home to change your bedpans and IV fluids. I’m the one who makes sure your meds are properly administered, checks your vitals, and provides end-of-life support for patients who have terminal illnesses.

I’m also the one who registers time of death, and cleans up all of your bodily fluids before your bereaved family members come in to witness your passing, and provide final medical verification procedures, often before the EMT’s or the funeral home arrives to dispatch with your corpse.

It’s exhausting work. Physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Unlike other medical fields, this job requires that I not only treat and assist the patient, but often a whole slew of relatives and nursing care staff, plus provide vital information to treating physicians.

By the time my shift is finished, all I want to do is curl up in bed and sleep for the next 12 hours straight, but I know I’ll find myself lying awake, worrying about my patient, wondering if they’re going to make it to tomorrow night’s shift, or if I’ll have to head straight into a new family’s life to care for their dying loved one. With no time to grieve for my patient, and the renewed struggle of coping with the death of my own life.

I was married, once, a long time ago, it seems. I have a daughter, and a brand new baby grandson. But I’m a woefully small part of their lives, because they live during daylight hours, and my shift is graveyard. In spite of the fact that I’m not sleeping most of the morning, anyway, I’m really not able to be as fully present.

In the mornings I do sneak over to her house to get some grammy time. My life really is not as bleak as I paint it out to be, but only because I have a secret weapon against the misery and suffering I deal with at work. I’m a member of a chat line.

I can call in 24/7 and always find someone to talk to. While I can’t discuss my job, really, or the specifics of what I’ll be doing tonight, I can find solace and excitement in someone else’s vibrant life, the genuine engagement in their voice as we communicate about everything, or nothing.

It all depends on the person on the other end of the line. Someday, I might even get up the courage to actually go on one of the dates I’m regularly offered! But for now, I’m just grateful – and still sane – because of that nightly connection I can make with someone living, breathing and laughing with me!