Memoirs of a Nurse
*This post contains graphic descriptions
As I sink myself into the warm water that fills the bath tub I feel some of the tension roll off. The sweet smell of soap fills the steaming air and I close my eyes to try and make peace with the day I just had. It replays in my mind….
I’m standing in my patients room charting and chatting when I hear something gurgling. I look up and there is blood overflowing from his mouth. All down the front of him, like lava errupting from a volcano. His eyes are huge and desperate. He is aspirating on it. I grab the suction, yell for help. His blood pressure is dropping. We all begin to move quickly. Medications are being hung. A rapid transfusion of fluid to be followed by blood is started. Get him down. Get him intubated. Get a large central line IV in. He is bleeding arterialy. The doctor and team to scope and stop the bleeding are on their way. Blood is going everywhere. He is now on mechanical ventilation and blood is flowing out around the breathing tube, streaming down his cheeks into a pool behind his body. His blood pressure is dropping rapidly. There’s no pulse. The red CPR button to flatten the bed gets smashed under my foot, someone pushes the blue button on the wall. I’m kneeling on a bed, hunched over my hands that are folded over each other. The base of my palm rythmically pounding on his chest. I am in this position without even thinking about it anymore. The red cart roles into the room along with many people huffing from their run here. There is discussion of what happened. Pause compressions, role the patient, get the board under him and the defribrilator pads on. Get back on the chest. Someone is sobbing hysterically. His wife, I forgot about her. We had just been discussing their grandkids. Thank God there is a chaplain that just got here. Syringes get pushed, discussion is made, round after round of rythm checks and electrical shocks are given. His body jumps each time and returns to its flaccid state. The teamwork in the room is palpable. Time is ticking. Ribs begin to rub and crunch as they crack from the pressure. Finger tips and toes begin to turn dusky. You can start to feel something creeping into the room. A fog settling in as we know it is time to stop. Its getting thick as something heroic begins to feel disgusting. As saving life starts to feel disrespectful of the fragility that makes it beautiful. As dignity begins slipping away, things start getting quieter. We keep going through the motions. Try a few more things. We wait for the doctor to tell us to stop. And he does. People begin to wander out and we are left alone with this body. We have to make him presentable to his family. His arms are laying limply off the sides of the bed. Items are strung everywhere from the whirlwind that just insued, some blood splattered here and there. There is a breathing tube still reaching out from the mouth making this human look alien. I lift his arms back on the bed, remove some equipment, wipe up the blood. I pull out a crisp white sheet and lay it over him, like somehow this will make this less messy.
New people come into the room. The people that love him. Did we do right by them? They look lost and dazed. Like they are looking through murkey water trying to understand. I give them kleenex and offer a chair, because what else am I to do? Shouldn’t I do more? They stand. His wife grabs his hand and lays herself over him and sobs that deep gut wrenching sob that is heartbreak. I feel myself going to crack. I step out quickly before I do. Block it out, block it out, block it out. Sometimes, I cross my arms so that I can hide that I am pinching myself so that I don’t cry. Because if we aren’t strong who will be?
I sit at the computer and chart. Someone comes up and says “Let me know when the funeral home comes so that we can stat clean the room. We have a patient in the ED that needs to come up.”
An hour later a gurney roles into a nice clean room, sunshine beaming in from the big windows. I smile and greet them “Hi, I’m going to be your nurse today.”
My eyes open and I am there in the privacy of my home. That warm water hugs me and sometimes I let the tears flow. I have to get it out of me. The heartache of humanity is sometimes more than I can stand. I’m not sure at moments like these how I can feel so heavy and empty at the same time. Isn’t that a contradiction?
I do not mean to spoil myself with hot baths, warm cups of coffee or making what seems like a frivilous meal. These simple things are just ways that I lick my wounds. Sometimes, I just have to be still and look at something beautiful. Sometimes I need to let loose, or scream or run until I feel empty of the suffering I witness.
This is a lot of why I cook. Sure there is all of the health stuff that everyone who knows me knows that I care about, but cooking is my escape into beauty and creativity. All of the colors, flavors, textures and aromas soothe and nourish the ache and evoke emotion. It is my therapy. To keep going I have to cultivate life back into me somehow and creating the experience of a meal helps with that. A meal represents memories, gatherings and connections with my loved ones. It is an art that serves those I love. Oh and how I want to serve them after my days in those walls at work!
I don’t know exactly why I am sharing this. I guess just so that others who are nurses know that they are not alone in these feelings. And for those that are not nurses, may you get a glimpse into what goes on in our minds. We carry countless stories like these around with us.
Please forgive me if I linger too long over something beautiful or simply seem far away in my mind somewhere. This is sometimes how I wrestle with these things I’ve shared here.