Lost and Found

Friday was the big day, the Christmas party at the Braille Institute. It was also the last day of my community service rotation through the Kaiser Permanente School of Anesthesia. I prepared for the day earlier in the week and I knew how important the celebration was for everyone, students and staff alike.

In the morning, I was assigned to the jazz band. I had a great time. The band was completely blind and they blew my mind. They were better than any jazz band I’d heard. I danced with the students. They swept me off my feet and wore me out. Afterwards, I was sent to serve lunch.

Catching my breath, walking towards the cafeteria, I ran into an old friend. It took a minute and then I realized I had graduated from Loma Linda University Nursing School with her in 1999. I hugged her and reintroduced myself.

“Oh, yes I recognize your voice,” she said. “How are you? Are you here for your NP?” I told her my goals of becoming a CRNA and my school status. I told her it was my last day volunteering at the Braille Institute and asked how much longer she would be working there, assuming she was studying for a higher degree as well.

Instead she said, “I am a student here. I started losing my sight shortly after we graduated from nursing school. Now I’m learning how to do regular, daily activities of life. I am almost completely blind.”

I think in nursing, or maybe in any profession that deals with tragedy, we become a little numb but her answer affected me more than anything I could recall. Tears filled my eyes. Then, she said, “I know, what a waste huh?”

I hugged her and stupidly, without thinking said, “Are you okay?”

She smiled and said “I have to be, right? But I love this place and they are like family now. They are working with me and I have so many friends here.”

She explained to me that she has the inherited disease of Retinitis Pigmentosa. The photoreceptor cells in her retinas were continuously degenerating causing cell death of the rods and cones in her eyes.

One more time she smiled and said, “Life is still good. I have my family, my education, and I have this place.” I wished her luck and took my place in the serving line, scooping up potatoes and passing out corn bread.

My friend sat with the other students, laughing and having a good time. She looked so much like she belonged there. But watching her brought back memories of our nursing class eating lunch together on the grass at school. I have to admit it took great strength not to cry all over the potatoes.

I knew the Braille Institute would give me great insight into how others manage. When I ran into my friend, it was the holidays. My two kids had very long Christmas lists; my studies and lack of financial support consumed me. I was stressed out and hyper-focused; it was so easy to forget who I was and what I had.

Later I found out that they were working with my friend and trying to figure out different ways she could use her four-year nursing education despite her blindness. I forget how to be happy sometimes. But my friend was happy and strong despite her disease. My week at the Braille Institute and my friend gave me perspective, which I needed.

Shannon Pfrunder, SRNA
Kaiser Permanente School of Anesthesia