Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Welcome Surprise

Right now there is a patient on our unit that I can safely say everyone... and I mean everyone dreads taking care of. He is one of those typical VA patients I speak of so often. He decided to get open heart surgery despite having active substance abuse problems. Can't quite remember if he actually told his surgeons about it before he went under the knife but all I can say is that as a result this man has been in the hosital for a long, long time. I'm talkin' months here. This man has been intubated and extubated and re-intubated multiple times. He has fought through multiple infections and bouts of sepsis. He has been so close to death and come through to the other side and is now on the verge of actually being transfered out of our unit. It's kind of a miracle, as a matter of fact.

He has also been one of the downright meanest people I have ever taken care of. He has called me and every other nurse who works with him pretty much every name in the book. He swears at you constantly and has even spit at people and tried to kick and hit them also. I'm tellin' you... this man is a real gem... and get this... his family members are even worse. These days people dread taking care of him more because of his family members than him and that's saying a lot! I even heard one of the nurses say today, "I would pay charge nurse $100.00  not to get that assignment!" I have to admit that I completely agreed with her.  

For the past two weeks I have had an assignment that was next door to his. I would walk by the room and politely smile and nod to him and his family... trying to have as little contact as possible while still remaining professional and courteous. Well, today as I passed by his room I saw him sitting up in bed, smiling and talking to his wife. Side note: he has not been able to talk the entire time I have taken care of him, he was either intubated or had a tracheotomy (which he still has). So I have never heard his voice. I have just read his lips this entire time because that was his only way of communicating.
When a patient has a trach they can't talk unless the tube that you see in this picture is able to be capped off and the patient can breathe on their own. It is a long process for someone who has been so critically ill to get to this point and it takes a lot of speech therapy and rehab too.
So back to today... As I pass by his room, I smile and wave at him and his wife. Then suddenly, just as I step out of his sight, I hear this deep, raspy, "Hello!" in response. I stopped dead in my tracks and backpedaled to his room, "Whoa!! Mr. X, I've never heard your voice before!!"

Something in me jumped at that moment and I knew he could see the genuine surprise on my face. Instantly, all the feelings of frustration and annoyance with this patient dissipated and I realized how much I actually cared about this man. He smiled at me like the Chesire Cat from Alice in Wonderland and we began to have an actual polite, civilized conversation about how much better he is doing and how exciting it is that he can actually talk now. Seriously, I just could not believe how different this man seemed. I have heard stories of recovered patients who come back to the unit as completely different people. People who were once horrible to their care givers are actually really wonderful when they aren't in the hospital. I know that people are often the worst version of themselves during times of sickness and severe stress but I just have never seen it in such a clear way.

I don't care if you are Mother Theresa... when someone calls you horrible names and swears at you and tries to physically assault you when all you are trying to do is take care of them... its hard not to build some apathy towards that person at the very least. I mean we're all human and even the best nurses have their limit. I definitely hit mine with Mr. X. Yet today none of that mattered. Today all I saw was a beautiful smile from a man that was finally able to use his voice.
It truly was a breath of fresh air and if I'm being really honest this guy totally made my day. It definitely was a welcomed surprise. :)


  1. when i was in the hospital i honestly thought of you and how you'd want to be treated and tried my best to be a good patient. haha

  2. I totally feel you! I had him the other day and we went around the unit and he actually wheeled himself quite a distance! I couldn't help but feel kind of like a proud momma watching her kid take her first steps.

    I was dreading that day at first b/c even the docs told me "GOOD LUCK" dealing with you know who. But it turned out to be a good day. :)

  3. love it- so glad you got that surprise! so glad you allow yourself to be open- to believe in redemption-to maintain more than your professionalism but also, your humanity and help him keep his! thanks again, for sharing.