Saturday, August 9, 2008

Lessons Learned: Week 5

(cross posted on
Not a lot of time right now, but I was reflecting on last week's dichotomy of humor and despair. That's kind of what it's always like: an emotional roller coaster, and you've just got to stay stable.

We're learning what honor it is to be a nurse. I mean, really. That's part of week 6's lessons, but it seriously hit home for me in week five.

The most difficult thing, I learned, is not to watch someone die or even lay there and suffer.
The most difficult thing for me, I've discovered, is to watch the eyes of someone who loves that patient, and who has loved that patient for decades, as that patient is treated, tested, writhing in pain, out of it.
When you see the partner of a patient- and that partner is so alive, so intelligent, and so present, and then you look over at the patient helpless in bed, struggling to remember his name...
And then you see the way that partner looks at your patient, as the doctors and nurses place the ECG electrodes on that patient's body - you see that partner's eyes, and you look at their wedding rings, and you realize that the sweating, hyperventilating *person* in the hospital bed who can't even tell you his/her name at that moment because they're so out of it is *everything* to this person in the room, who stands in the corner, out of the way, strong, keeping it together, letting us do our work, stabilize, extend life another minute, hour, day.

I lost it for both of us. I had to leave the room and duck into the closet. Trauma has never bothered me, but that look in her eyes cut me right to the soul.
I fought tears, and lost.

A fellow MEPN (and good friend) asked me, "Did you see her eyes?"
"Yes. That's why I had to leave."
He nods. "I had to leave, too."

We just stood there, hugged each other for a bit, sighed, and went back to taking vitals.

Later that day, I found out that another patient had received a final cancer diagnosis, and that it was not only extremely early, the prognosis was very good, AND it was treatable. She hugged me and we jumped for joy together.

A nurse practitioner friend of mine told me that not a day goes by that she doesn't give bad news, good news, cries, laughs or hugs a patient. And she says if you can't feel, it's time to leave the profession.
I think I understand why.

Remember: there's a life in front of you. There's a person in that bed. We are so much more than the sum of our diagnoses.

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