Jerry Soucy AKA the Death Nurse is one of the funniest people I know. His wit is a bit twisted, but that’s what makes Jerry so relatable. Aren’t we all a little bit twisted if we were to be totally honest? He brings “gallows humor” to a new level! Jerry is a blogger and a comic illustrator. Here is an example of one of his comics that is also the logo for his blog. You will see what I mean about the “little bit twisted” part of Jerry that is so endearing:
I am honored that Jerry has contributed this guest blog and that he counts me as a colleague/friend who has encouraged him. That is one of the highest compliments that I have ever received. Thank you Jerry, for being true to who you are and for representing nursing so authentically. Stand tall my friend, thank you for sharing your voice, art, and stories.
What it means to be encouraged
I first met Robin Cogan at a bar on the UMass/Amherst campus. She was sitting at a hightop with two other people, one of whom was my friend, Ashlie. We were all just arriving for a “Nursing Think Tank’ organized by Peggy Chin and colleagues that was to unfold over the next two days.
I had no idea what I was getting into, and in addition to my usual status as a guy at a nursing event it was obvious that I was severely under-credentialed in this crowd.
I made a beeline for Ashlie’s group and blundered into their conversation. Robin acknowledged my approach with a smile that seemed to come from deep inside. You know what I mean – it’s the kind of smile that doesn’t just start at the mouth and stop at the face, but instead radiates outward from the core of someone’s body like pulses of visible energy that welcome and affirm.
It’s an overtly positive vibe. It can’t be faked.
I learned more about Robin and her work over the next few days – that she was an author with publications in rigorous academic journals as well as an enthusiastic fellow blogger; expert school nurse practitioner, teacher, and mentor; directly and painfully connected to the effects of gun violence; committed to action; and a relentless encourager.
Other people’s work fascinates me, but I also like people who express some interest in mine, how I go about it, and what I’m trying to do. I got plenty of that from my Think Tank colleagues, and the message was clear – “Nice work! Keep going!”
Robin has been relentless in her encouragement ever since.
My nursing practice is focused on the needs of patients and families facing serious illness and end of life, and helping direct their final trajectory towards a good death; supporting the caregivers and clinicians who serve them; and in the community promoting advance care planning, how to articulate goals for care and make informed decisions about treatment options; and anything related.
In simplest terms, I’m a hospice nurse. I’ve always worked in high mortality settings, and like my critical care colleagues thrive on the intensity and high stakes drama. But no ICU has a perfect batting average, and I’ve more often drawn to caring for those who weren’t going to make it out alive.
I spent the middle chunk of my nursing career selling application software in healthcare. My credentials were a definite competitive advantage as I traveled around the country on sales calls that often included presentations and demonstrations. I like being center stage focus of attention, the acknowledged or assumed expert of the moment. I also like telling people what I think, and what I think they should do. “Buy my company’s software. You’d be crazy not to.”
I think the best teaching includes a substantial element of performance, because you can’t help people awareness, understanding, or action without first getting their attention – and keeping it.
The 2018 Nursing Think Tank at UMass/Amherst is one of the small handful of truly transformative events in my nursing life, speaking directly to what I most care about and providing the tools to help me do my work better.
Three others: a full day conference in 2007 on the visual presentation of quantitative information conducted by Edward Tufte; a three-day training session in 2008 with the End of Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC) that featured some rockstar faculty; and the 2018 Comics in Medicine Conference held that year at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont.
Some colleagues don’t quite understand how these eclectic influences can guide my practice, and some react negatively to what they’ve led me to – a cartoon skeleton alter-ego with an old-school nursing cap and commitment to speaking painful truths but with an ironic sensibility and a touch of humor who holds forth under the banner of Death Nurse and who also answers to Skelly.
This is the flag I’ve planted. Or blog. This is where I stand.
Getting on Twitter was another important personal Think Tank outcome, one I shared with Robin and other attendees. It’s opened a door, or maybe better to call it a floodgate, that’s provided me with an outlet for my own ideas along with access to amazing individuals and theirs.
Robin frequently likes, thoughtfully comments on, and even re-Tweets what I have to say. Sometimes she’s the only one. Her own Tweets are an endless source of solid ideas and open-hearted encouragement.
Robin gets me. I appreciate Robin. We both see the value of stories. I think she’s fearless in hers.
Robin’s commitment to ending gun violence is rooted in her own painful personal experience. Those are her stories to recount. I have one, too, and I want to tell it here:
Midsummer 1963. I’m eight years old. My mother works part-time at a pick-up/drop-off outlet for a local dry cleaner. It’s a busy location, just up the road from the town’s largest employer where rows of engineers sit at desks designing large-scale electronics, like radar systems. They wear white shirts, sharp-creased slacks, and skinny black ties. Those shirts and pants don’t wash, starch, or press themselves.
Most nights she works alone until 6, but every Thursday the place stays open to 8. Dusk is settling as she stands at the counter facing front and next to the cash register.
Something about the way he walks across the small parking lot catches her attention, and as she looks behind to her left he steps into the open back doorway. All she sees is the gun. She screams one loud long scream.
She just keeps screaming.
“Shut up!” Then he turns and runs.
Someone at the donut shop across the street hears her screams and sees a man running. They call the police, who are there in a minute. She’s still standing at the cash register, but can’t scream anymore. Her throat burns ragged and raw.
The next day my mom is a not-so-minor celebrity interviewed live on the local AM radio station during their popular noontime news, answering questions through her sore throat. A local restaurant sends over enough free lunch to last the weekend. The boss gives her the day off with pay.
Later that same year, in late November, my dad enters the hospital for a routine hernia repair. He develops complications on a Friday morning – pulmonary embolism? renal failure? sepsis? – and is near death for the next week. Flags are at half-mast all over town, store windows draped in black crepe, and nothing is on TV except Jackie and John-John and a horse-drawn carriage with a flag-draped casket rolling to the sound of drums.
My dad pulled through and enjoyed another thirteen years. He said that at one point he was standing naked in a barren landscape with gray skies and howling wind, until he suddenly found himself in a green meadow and warm sunshine.
The contest between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford still had several weeks to go when his aortic aneurysm ruptured. Several hours of emergency surgery with 30-40 units of blood from all across the region didn’t change the inevitable.
My mom rang in the millennium, and later died peacefully in the company of two siblings, their spouses, and me as the country waited for the Supreme Court to decide who would be our next president.
Now here I am, writing this piece, talking about Robin, mourning the end of my Senior Senator Professor Warren’s campaign, and no longer spending too much time wondering if things might have turned out differently for me as a little kid whose parents died suddenly less than six months apart.
The past is history. The future, a mystery. All we have is the gift of now, which is why we call it the present.
Here’s another story, offered in celebration of Robin and her spirit.
Bio: Jerry Soucy, BSN, RN – Expert nurse for patients and families facing serious illness and end of life. Certified in palliative care and hospice. Experienced in multiple settings, including specialty intensive care (high-risk bone marrow transplant, neuroscience), hemodialysis, inpatient palliative care, and hospice care in the community. Services: case management, consultation, advocacy, and education for clinicians, caregivers, and the community.