Friday, May 27, 2011

a moment

today every part of my soul feels weary. i have been walking in a sort of daze. a mix of exhaustion and sorrow and gratitude. there are moments in your life that change you. moments that give you such a clear view of your existence that you can never be the same. i made the choice to become a nurse because i knew that if i did my life would never be the same. 
it has been a long month. a busy one in our unit and it has taken a visible toll on everyone. lots of sick calls. lots of complaining. lots of very sick people who need a lot of care and not enough people to give it. emotionally we have all been drained. i am drained too. 
in the past month i have taken care of multiple patients with debilitating, chronic, fatal diseases. they teach you in nursing school how to have boundaries. how to let go and care at the same time. how to set limits with chronic patients without seeming harsh. i have never been good with that. i oscillate between the lines.
yesterday was my last night of a long stretch at work. i was tired and in pain. i had a very stable assignment. not a busy one by any ICU standard. just difficult. one patient on his 7th round of chemotherapy, suffering from a vicious cancer and a mild infection. i was thankful he slept for almost the entire 12 hour shift. thankful for the chance he got to rest and restore but thankful for myself too. thankful for the minimal interaction needed. 
my other patient, a man in his prime, suffering from the end stages of ALS (lou gehrig's disease). the only muscles left with any sort of function in his body were above his neck. he could not move, could not eat, could not speak. he couldn't even breathe without the help of a ventilator and tracheostomy that was placed. he could barely mouth enough words to ask for what he needed. his wife was there at the beginning of my shift. she wanted to make sure the night shift nurse was a "good one." that is always a bit of an anxious thing for me. the ICU is stressful and often times families of ICU patients are burdened with fear and sadness and an acute awareness of their loss of control. then here comes this 26 year old girl who will be taking care of your husband, father, brother... your son, who is on a ventilator and a plethora of medications that need titrating and managing. for them it is terrifying. which i understand. i do. but it is still hard.
it is hard to tell what they expect. what they want. do they want you to be happy and positive and cheerful? do they want you to be serious and somber and just down to business? or do they want you to be friendly with them and treat them like you have known them for years? i see some of my co-workers who are warm and friendly and smiley. hugging their patient's family members and chatting like they are bff's. i have never been good with that. i am not good at being smiley. i am genuine and hard-working and compassionate but i am not smiley. when i am at work i am serious and professional. i think some people see it as being cold and that is difficult for me. i want them to know that i am giving 100% of my attention to their loved one but it is hard when you don't know how that person receives that message. everyone is different. 
often times i am the one who relates to the few that everyone else has a hard time with. the quirky, walled up, introverted ones. the ones that take a little more time to get to know. i get that because i am that way too. maybe it is a trust thing. or maybe its just time. i find though that the ones with the hardest shells have the softest hearts. a lesson my mother taught me years ago and one that i never forgot. 
i knew this could be a difficult night. i was right. it was difficult. it was long. it took every ounce of energy left in my being to give the care i gave. it took a lot of venting sessions in the break room and hugs from my co-workers too. i am so incredibly thankful for them. they keep what little sanity i have left intact. 
i spent 90% of my evening trying to understand my patient's pleas for help. imagine what it would be like to have your mind fully functioning and completely aware of your existence but to have no way to connect that to your physical body. imagine having no way to move into a comfortable position. no way to wipe the tears from your eyes when you are sad. no way to scratch your head when it itches. or move the covers off of your body when you get hot. no way to eat or no way to communicate clearly that you've gone to the bathroom in your bed and need to be cleaned up. no way to tell someone you love them. or to say that you are in pain.
every time we had to do anything to my patient it required a 30 minute session after of discussing ways to reposition him. he would nod and attempt to mouth words but it ended up looking like the mouth of a puppet on strings. everything jumbled together and nothing was comprehensible. i resorted to head nods and one word phrases. 
Is it your head? no
Is it your arm? no
Is it your shoulder? no
Is it your hand? yes
Is it too low? no
Is it too high? no
Is it your fingers? yes
Do you want me to spread your fingers apart? he smiles.
I fix his hands and he begins to nod his head towards his left and looks down at his hand.
Do you want me to fix your other hand too? no
Huh... try to mouth it to me.
Up? no
are you saying head? no
Im sorry but I can't understand. Try again.
I turn on the lights and walk around to the other side of the bed and begin again.
Is it your arm? no
Is it your leg? no...
I take a deep breathe in and proceed to look around for anything that looks uncomfortable.
30 minutes and 10 pillows later we have him propped up in a position that is comfortable.
an hour later the process repeats itself again.
by the end of the 12 hour shift i was translating to people what he was trying to say and dictating exactly where he wanted every limb of his body to be. down to every toe and finger... everything had its place. by the end of the 12 hour shift i had nothing left. i thought about his wife at that moment... and how she looked on the verge of tears when she left the night before. and how i thought that it was because she was sad that her husband was dying. and now i was wondering if it was also because a part of her was dying too. the life she once knew and the love she once had would never be the same. the dreams she had. the children they had. nothing would be the same. ever. and how she must feel so incredibly exhausted and drained after a year and a half long of this.
i wanted to weep for her. i wanted to tell her how sorry i was and how unfair it was and how i wished it were different. for both of them. i wished i could do more. make it easier some how.
i prayed at that moment that God would give her rest then. peace. that she would sleep well and heal too while her husband was being taken care of here. 
when i went into the room to say goodbye that morning he looked over at me and mouthed the words, "thank you. you're the best" and smiled so wide i could see the deep wrinkles form around his eyes.
i could feel the tears reach my eyelashes.
"no my friend, thank you" i squeezed his hand and smiled back.
there are moments in your life when you know that you will never be the same. and in that moment i knew that as i walked down the stairs to my car that morning, i would feel every step and inhale deeply every breath. that i would go home and tell the people in my life that i love them because i can. i also knew that this was one of those precious moments... a moment where i would surely never be the same.

1 comment :

  1. i had a tough time with that assignment too. i remember i kept saying to myself "please let his wife get here soon so I can understand what this man is saying!"

    ...took me about 3 hours to get down what he wanted and what he was trying to tell me.

    it made my day 2 days later when i came in to help reposition him (i was resource). he had his PMV on and told me "i'm glad to see you."

    his wife asked me that night I gave report to you to make sure he got a good nurse. so I went and suggested you. i knew you would be a good fit with him. ;)