A Thank You to Nurses
Submitted by Natalie K. Bridges, R.N., B.S.N., C.C.R.N.
I've never had a desk job but I'm assuming it's quite different from my day-to-day at the hospital in the ICU.
On your drive to work, with no way to predict the course of the night, you're gearing up for whatever the thirteen hours ahead holds. And hoping for an uninterrupted lunch. If you're really lucky, you'll get breakfast too. In the intensive care unit, you never know what awaits you.
Within the first hour, you've probably already cleaned up poop. You may have intubated someone. And sometimes you've been thrown into a crying mess of family members, all anxious and terrified. You dodge trach secretions, crush medications, and swear at the computer as it freezes amidst your charting. You introduce, explain, console, all while checking and flushing and listening. Multi-tasking to a dizzying degree.
One mile here. Another mile there. No wonder your legs ache by the time you get home. You sit for an average of twenty seconds at a time before someone needs to turn or vomit or the patient just needs your attention for some inconsequential reason. You really can suction yourself, you really can.
Your patience, charged up when you arrive, dwindles throughout the day until you reach critically low levels by the time you give report to go home. And then someone has a neuro change at 1900. It's flashing red, danger, go home before you lose it. Find a way to shed it on your drive home before you explode at your spouse. Then do it again tomorrow.
You throw your body across your patient to contain the rogue hand wandering dangerously close to their breathing tube. You find yourself reasoning with a crazy person, begging, imploring, sternly telling them to stop moving and behave. Crank up the sedation. Check the tox screen, yep, it's meth. and crack and weed and alcohol too. Lovely!
You give every ounce of energy doing chest compressions while trying to figure out which screaming doctor is actually running this code. You calculate and titrate, keeping a million complicated thoughts organized at once. You clean blood off the floor, off the ceiling, off the bed, off the patient. You hold a quivering hand as a doctor relates the mournful news. He didn't make it. And then it's done and you have nothing left to say to your coworker but, "breakfast?"
You imagine bizarre scenarios based on all the outlier, horrible cases you encounter and then hug your spouse tightly at night, thinking "we made it another day." You have an explicit list of nurses on your unit that could take care of you should you fall ill or hurt. Specific. Your coworkers know more about your wishes should you become a quad than your husband does. You convince your family not to get motorcycles or smoke or eat sketchy Mexican tacos (worms in the brain! I'm serious!). Or drive at night. Or drive at all.
Why do we do it? Why do we subject ourselves to blood and vomit and feces, kicks and punches, swears and derogatory slurs about bed baths? Why do we answer the phone at 5am and decide to come in on your day off, so that everyone else's day is less horrible? Why do we tolerate the accusations of crazy family members or try to accommodate the overwhelming requests of an intern with a new admission? Someone lost their dentures? Oh ok, let me add that to the list of things to do today.
Because after you've done six bedside procedures and intubated your other patient, your coworkers kept you afloat. Because when the morphine drip is started and the dying patient is extubated, the family members holds your hand until it's finished. Because for some insane reason, you keep coming back for more, day after day. Shift after shift.
You care, sometimes too much, and have attended a funeral or two. Or gone home completely wrecked after an especially heart-wrenching day. You do it for those who could care less, those who can't or won't pay, for those who will never write you a thank-you note or send you cookies (although we really appreciate it when that happens). You don't do it for the money or the fame (ha). You do it simply because you can't not do it.
It's important. and valuable. and I'm saying thank you.