In Memoriam: Claudia Lamparzyk ’20 MSN

The YSN community extends our deepest condolences to the loved ones of midwifery student Claudia Lamparzyk, who passed away in hospice care in November 2020. An artist and an athlete as well as a nurse, Lamparzyk’s submission for the 2020 Creative Writing Awards progressed to the final round of prize consideration. With her family’s permission, it is reprinted below. 

It’s been over two years since my four year old son Eli and I were decorating the Christmas tree, when he picked up an ornament of an angel and asked “Mommy is this you?” and I said “No Eli, that’s an angel, I’m just a human.” and he replied “But you’re a nurse.” I sat with his sweet response for a moment. I couldn’t figure out how he knew the value of nurses at his age but more than that I hadn’t even taken the NCLEX yet, didn’t feel even close to being a nurse, was completely overwhelmed in fact, but his insight gave me hope. 

Last night I slept alright, waking up at 5:15 a.m. reciting my mantra “thank you for my healed body.” Over and over again until the paranoid thoughts go away. I see my abdomen open under the bright lights in the operating room. 

I am more familiar with the internal organs now after working with cadavers our first year of nursing school and because of that I know more intimately what will happen on the operating table. I observed an elective hysterectomy my first year and remember holding the uterus in my hands afterwards, in my mind singing “I’ve got the whole world in my hands.” I remember the heat her uterus gave off in my hands. How could this woman willingly give up her uterus with all its superpowers? I had yet to learn about how painful and life altering menstrual cramps could be for some women. I stood there along the periphery of the operating room, still singing to myself, thinking about her children that grew in this organ that was now disconnected from its owner and now in my inexperienced, naive hands. Who will hold my uterus when it first comes out? Will they honor it as the home of my two boys before they drop it into a cold bucket and send it to pathology? Already, I have the urge to reach out, swaddle it and let it know everything will be okay, just as I swaddled my children. My mom had a hysterectomy at my age due to cancer. She is currently mid- air on her way from Guam to Connecticut to be with me for the surgery. I’m impressed with my mom’s energy at the age of 76. She doesn’t slow down. The older I get the more I get the same feedback. I pray that I am just like her and truly can’t be slowed down. 

I roll around in bed, it’s now 5:30 a.m., and realize it’s Wednesday which means I could go to swim practice if I felt like it but I find excuses; there is snow on the ground, there is journaling to be done, Isaak, my son, will most likely wake up soon, find I am not in my bed and then come downstairs to look for me. When he doesn’t find me, he may open the front door and call my name, he may even step outside bare foot and Sterling, our dog, will squeeze through the space between Isaak and the door and run out into the snow, where he is happiest. Isaak is four years old and he’d gladly follow Sterling out into the snow in the dark without shoes or a jacket, that’s just who he is. He’ll be out there in the dark while I’m blissfully swimming, and my husband won’t know because he is a solid sleeper and so is Eli, now six years old. They take after each other in that way. Isaak takes after me, up and ready to take on anything at five in the morning. So, I don’t go to swim practice, instead I do a couple laps in my mind. I think for a minute about Mr. Rogers and what a great person he was and how he swam laps as an adult. I seem to have left this discipline some years ago, burnt out I suppose from all the years of waking up before the sun to pull myself up and down pool lanes for hours, approximately 6,000 hours over twelve years, I calculated. I lay there and feel my arms stretching through the waters of my mind, a flip turn and then another. 

I’ve had four rounds of chemo already. I am wearing the patient bracelet often now, feels like weekly. Always on my left wrist, arching like a rainbow over my sore veins. My left arm, for years, was the arm that propelled me out of the water in water polo, steadied me while I caught and shot the ball. I remember years of glancing down at it through the water, back and forth, back and forth, cupping water. 

I look down at it now and see it still taking the brunt of it. I’m strong, I tell myself. The nurse asks my name and date of birth, LAMPARZYK 2/23/78. How am I a patient? I don’t feel sick, I feel great, actually. I am not a patient. Never have been. I accidentally birthed my first born at home! I’m a budding Midwife! We can catch babies standing on our heads! I am not a patient. I don’t get sick. I’ve had a total of two colds in four years. But the hospital bracelet is there on my wrist, reminding me, again. 

I’m good friends now with the chemo nurses. This toxic chemical soup is going down smoothly with the help of their humor and presence. If chemo didn’t involve chemo, I’d go weekly just to be with them. They create a safe haven. 

The curtain is drawn around my little area. I sit comfortably in the recliner. I have my pillows. The nurse lays a warm blanket on me. Premedication starts then the chemo, drip, drip, drip. “Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” I have to tell Eli that nurses are not just angels but also spoons full of sugar. My area is calm and quiet. The kids are at school. My husband and I fall into a nice conversation for which we might not normally have time. It’s a date. 

The hair loss has finally worked its way down my body and my pubic hair is now almost gone, ironically sparing my bikini line. My vulva is exposed. I gasped the first time I reached down to feel bare skin. A flash back to the molestation I experienced as a child. The little bit of peach fuzz at the age of seven was no match for my friend’s father as he tucked me in during a sleep over. Lord give me my hair back, cover up this precious part of me. Put my armor back on. 

A month ago, I was at clinical tending to a patient. She was on her seventh pregnancy and her first six children were in her sister’s custody. She sat there before me with her growing belly very casually telling me that she was back to a pack a day of cigarettes. When I went to the provider room to give my plan, I started to cry and said, “I can’t go back in there.” Nurses are angels. Not me. Not now. I’m selfish. I don’t want to know how hard her life was leading up to this. I just want my health back. The health I worked hard for. I am 41 years old and I will enter menopause next week. I will experience a loss before it is natural time. The attempt to harvest eggs failed. I will have no more children of my own. My heart is broken. I cuddle up in bed with my son Eli at night. His little body spooning me. He reaches up and pushes his arm under my arm and around to grasp my shoulder and says, “I won’t let you fall mommy.” 

I’m afraid to go into surgery. I don’t like the idea of placing my life in someone else’s hands. Oh wait, that’s exactly what I expect my patients to do with me. I told my son Eli I was scared about my upcoming surgery. He replied, “It’s okay to be scared mommy. Being scared is just another way to learn.” “That’s true Eli.” Yes, I do have a lot to learn. How did I get into this nurse midwifery business anyway? I only ever imagined doing this job as a healthy person in tip top shape. It feels less appealing now; being a patient learning how to take care of patients. 

I’m out of surgery. My husband whispers to me that I still have my uterus, I feel some peace. The nurses are taking great care of me. LAMPARZYK 2/23/78, this time sans ovaries, tubes, appendix and omentum. Visitors come and go bringing smiles and comfort. I am making progress. The residents are all familiar to me from my rotations at the birth center. My doctor visits me and describes how he carved a tumor off my stomach, talk about superpowers, he’s a magician. I’m in excellent hands. 

“So many changes.” I say to my husband with tears streaming down my face as we get ready to leave the hospital. 

Angels yes, but human too. 

About the Author

Claudia Lamparzyk is a mother of two young boys, wife to a Navy Diver and a women’s health and midwifery student. She was born in Venezuela and raised in Guam where her parents, brother and his family reside. She is an artist at heart and is most at home near the ocean. At a very young age she dreamed of catching babies, but it wasn’t till she was received midwifery care during her first pregnancy that she felt sure of her path. She holds a BA in English from the University of Massachusetts where she also served three years as co-captain of the Division I Water Polo team. She went on to serve as a Peace Corps health volunteer in Mauritania then spent several years in the non-profit health sector between Guam and Hawaii. She later studied Arabic at the American University of Cairo before her curiosities took her to study the built environment’s effect on health and attained a MA in Urban Planning from the University of Hawaii. She hopes her education and life experiences have uniquely prepared her to serve women in their quest for health and to provide quality labor care.