Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Invisible Casualties of War.

It has been nice to see everyone acknowledging the true meaning behind memorial day. There were only a handful of the blogs I follow who didn't mention at least something small about our fallen soldiers and for that I am thankful. Memorial day has nothing to do with days off from work and BBQ's.
Being a VA nurse is not always easy. I see a lot of PTSD, addiction, alcohol abuse. I see a lot of homelessness and dysfunctional family relationships. I don't understand why so many of our nation's veterans end up on the streets with no adequate support system. Either way, I am glad that I can do my part in helping heal the wounds that being in the military has given them.
I worked this memorial day and for the first time in a long time I felt proud to be a VA nurse.... and even though I ended up floating to a unit that wasn't my own I had the opportunity of seeing first hand what true sacrifice is. Memorial day exists to honor those who have fallen in combat... but what most people forget about and often times don't even see are those men and women who come home suffering from traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries or combat related wounds. What about the men and women who die years out from deployment as a result of the injuries they suffered while at war.
Those are the kinds of soldiers I see. We have had more and more of our OEF (Afghanistan) and OIF (Iraq) soldiers showing up in our unit these days. Kids who are my age or younger and have suffered from devastating physical wounds and emotional scars related to the wars they served in. In our hospital we have phenomenal Traumatic Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Rehab units and yesterday there was a rapid response called to one of those units. Since I was in charge of the code pager I answered the call and lo and behold it was for a patient that had been in our unit earlier this year. A kid not too much younger than me who had suffered an IED blast overseas and had to have half of his skull plated and a shunt placed in his brain. His injuries are so extensive that he is virtually paralyzed and is completely non-verbal. When I saw him in our unit none of us thought he would ever make it out of the ICU alive. We watched as his wife dutifully sat at his bedside day and night, helping with his rehab and withstanding every surgical procedure he would barely make it through.
When I saw him yesterday he looked like a completely different person. Still non-verbal but looked much healthier and was even able to track you with his eyes when you called his name. When we were trying to assess his mental status the nurse who had been with him in the unit leaned over him with a tightened fist and said, "Hey man, give me a fist bump so I know you're alright." Surprised and somewhat confused, I looked over at the patient and watched as he slowly reached his weakened, contracted arm up towards the nurse. He clenched his fist and sure enough he gave that fist bump, confirming he was in fact okay.
Today, as I was spending time with Chris before I headed back to work, I was sharing with him about my night yesterday and I told him about this story. I didn't realize it until that moment but I understood it then... that patient was a gift to me yesterday. God knows, yesterday was a crappy day. I had to float to another unit and work has already been difficult recently. I was tired and overwhelmed having to answer the code pager for the hospital. In many ways I have forgotten what it means to be a VA nurse. I have lost that passion.
Yesterday though... yesterday was a gift. That patient reminded me of what it means to be a soldier and on a day where we are honoring the fallen soldiers of war... I was able to see the true sacrifice of the families and soldiers of those who have served. It gave me hope and it humbled me in ways that I can't quite explain. As I was telling Chris the story of this patient... tears began filling in my eyes and it reminded me of just how rewarding my job can be.

So today I want to say thank you to the men and women who have served...
Thank you to the families who have sacrificed their loved ones.
Thank you to the men and women who are the invisible casualties of war... the ones who die after they come home.
Thank you to the soldiers whose lives are forever changed because of the service they gave to our country and especially to the sacrifice they made for their fellow soldiers.
Thank you, it is an honor to be your nurse.

No comments :

Post a Comment