Louisiana Sandusky, the charge nurse at Nashville Memorial Hospital, writes how she tries to allay the patients' fears or concerns when they have become sick or injured, or those who may even be dying. She tries her best to be strong for them, but when she gets off work, she often cries when she goes to her office to unwind.
I guess patients must see me as some sort of "saviour", an angel, a heroine in uniform. That is quite good, but being a nurse is often a thankless job with low pay (MOST nurses make far less than what they are worth, and they certainly make a lot less than doctors do!), unpredictable hours, no holidays off (UNLESS you have requested them off!), much in the way of stress or heartbreak, and dealing with irate or scared patients, uncaring or pompous doctors with sour attitudes, beaurocratic administrators, or worried family members of the patients. You also deal with death and sickness on a one-on-one and daily basis, and eventually, you wonder why you are even HERE, or even if you are WORTH anything, especially whenever something goes wrong.
Nurses also deal with incredibly long work hours and tortuous workloads (hospitals are often short-staffed: I have had to spend precious time away from my own family and work the evening or overnight shifts to cover the shifts of those who couldn't make it to work, and sometimes I feel like I am doing the work of three people!), and after dealing with sick, injured, or dying patients, it does start to take a toll on a person's mind or body if they aren't careful. I have especially had to learn to build up my stress tolerance level, and right now, I can handle just about anything. Nothing really surprises me anymore (but then, when I am in the closed confines of my office, I break down, and it doesn't take much before I start to cry, especially if it involves patients I have come to love, and they end up doing poorly, or children). It's even worse when one of my own children come into the hospital, like my son, Johnny, or my daughter, Ronee', as two examples.
People always see me as "the strong one". They rarely see me get upset, but when a patient that we have tried valiantly to save "crashes" (rapidly or unexpectedly deterioates, or grows worse) and then dies, I somehow manage to hold back the tears; but when I am in my office, I just start bawling. The same applies if the patient ends up paralyzed or damaged in another way, and no matter what you have done has not prevented the inevitable from occurring.
Now, they HAVE seen me get angry; I DO have a wicked temper, but I have learned to control it; although there HAVE been times where I couldn't take any more, and I blew up, especially if someone isn't doing their job, or if a patient isn't getting the proper care or treatment, or if people try to tell me how to do my job when I have been around longer than a lot of them! (I have been here at the hospital as head nurse for over five years, and I KNOW how to do my job!!)
Yet, unlike a lot of nurses, I DO care for my patients, and I am NOT afraid to tell them that I love them or that I care; and when they are scared or even upset, I try to be with them in their fear, and I hold their hand, stroke their forehead, or run my fingers alongside their cheek or touch their shoulder. I also pray with them (or for them), and I let them know that I will do all I possibly can to try to alleviate the pain or their suffering. If I think they need pain meds, I always check with their doctors first, to make sure it is okay, and then I give the meds to the patients, and I tell them that the doctor says it was okay, and that the pain should ebb somewhat in a few minutes. If they have to undergo a painful or other invasive procedure, I always tell them to "Hang on, baby; it'll be over soon", and I am right there during the entire procedure; and when they are done, I tell them that they did a great job, and that I am proud of them for sticking it out. That always makes them feel a bit better. I also encourage my patients to yell or scream if they are able, and that makes them feel better, too.
When children are involved, I try to make them smile or even laugh. I am a firm believer in the old adage "laughter is good for whatever ails you", and I have found that to be true in my own life. I remember as a small child of nine years lying in the hospital bed, paralyzed and unable to walk, and how the nurses would try in their own special way to make me laugh; and I have never forgotten that, and I use that philosophy in my own treatment plan when dealing with patients, especially children or teenagers. Children or teenagers love a good joke, and I try to accomodate that by bringing them joke books (CLEAN!), or by telling stories from my own childhood, or by bringing them humor-themed stories. I also encourage them to draw or write stories, and that makes their hospital stay just a little bit brighter, a little bit more tolerable, between painful sticks or other procedures. It may be brief, but it makes them forget of their own sickness, suffering, or pain, and it boosts their morales tremendously.
It is easier to accomplish my work or my goals when the patients are children I don't even know; but it is so hard when one of my own children is in the hospital. This is when my work becomes an entirely different ballgame. When Ronee' was so sick with her breathing crises or her stroke, or when Johnny was so sick with the meningitis, I didn't have time to interact with them or try to make them laugh because for one thing, they COULDN'T. They were either hooked up to a whole myriad of tubes, their little arms and legs pinned to the bed, or they were unconscious, and they couldn't speak or do anything but lie there in bed, still as death, with only the monitors signalling any signs of life from their seemingly lifeless little bodies. Yet, despite my own concerns or fears surrounding the fate of my sick children, I still took care of them as needed, and I tried to let them know in SOME subtile, simple way that I was there, even if it meant gently stroking their hair or foreheads, or lightly kissing their cheek, or by holding their hands, anything to just touch them. Somehow, in their unconscious state, they knew that their mommy was there, beside them, because the monitors would beep or send off alarms, and the patterns would change markedly, or they would wince or try to make faces, or they would move a leg, an arm, or even a toe or finger. Still, it was so hard seeing them look like this (it still is, even now; after all, they ARE my own children!), and it was so joyful and miraculous when they would turn the corner and would slowly, but surely, emerge from their comas or unconsciousness, or their conditions would improve, and soon, a few days later, their little eyes would be open, and their color would be so much better; and I could read their innermost thoughts, just by observing their eyes.
It is when people who have been at death's door suddenly recover that my job becomes especially sweet and worthwhile; and this is when I thank God for the knowledge He has put in my head and the skill in my hands. I consider my job a Gift from God, and I find it especially rewarding when people who were expected to die suddenly and miraculously recover, and I still see them walking around, even now. You can't possibly IMAGINE the joy or satisfaction that floods through my veins whenever I see people I took care of doing so well after they have left the hospital! This is one reason why I continue TO be a nurse, even with all the heartache and sickness that I face every day I am at the hospital!