Wednesday, January 4, 2012

on my job and life long memorable experiences

I wanted to post about my NYE and a giveaway I have planned, but I'll save that for later this week. I learned of something at work that is heavy on my heart tonight and wanted to share.

I don't have the opportunity to talk about my job very much due to confidentiality policies, so I can't talk about specifics, but I wanted to try to explain what I do to you all and share some experiences as best as I can.

The unit I work in is the Neurosurgical ICU. We take care of patients after surgeries and patients injuries can range from brain tumors to subarachnoid aneurysms, to head trauma. We also get overflow from other service patients so I take care of medicine/pulmonary, general surgery, vascular, ortho, etc type patients.

As a nurse we have to serve as an advocate for the patient, do what is most important for the patient, serve as their communication {when they can't} to the doctors, serve as communication between families and the doctors, all while trying to keep our cool. I say that last phrase only because there are some MDs who can be difficult to deal with, and make my job 10x harder. There are the pleasant ones though who make my job peaceful and easy!

I'm beyond grateful to have started my career in the ICU where I have learned so much information and how to take care of critical patients. I learn something new everyday and try to soak up all the learning experiences in the unit as I can. In a teaching hospital, there are interns and residents around all the time: perfect opportunity to listen and ask questions.

In our unit in particular, as you may guess, the outcomes with neurosurgical procedures and trauma are not always great. So, I see a lot of depressing cases and even death. When I was a brand new nurse I cried, and I cried A LOT. I guess as I've worked longer I've created the ability to "separate" work experiences and my emotions. Maybe I've created a shell. For a while I thought I became "hard-hearted," but I know that's not true because I have the capability to experience to feel a wide range of emotions: happy, sad, excited for me and for others, etc.

I see also that I don't know these people and I don't have a connection to them, so as I realize that what they and their families are going through is very difficult, I cannot get upset every time. I tell myself I don't know them, so it's ok. There are the occasional families I do end up spending multiple shifts with and I do get to know them. And then I do feel somewhat connected and get upset with their unfortunate situation.

I had a patient this summer who was driving through multiple states to go visit some family. She is about the same age as I am and a car got on the interstate on the exit ramp going the wrong direction. He hit her head on and killed her best friend, the passenger. She survived the accident, but had a long stay in the ICU with multiple surgeries and complications. Her mother never left her side, and I got to know some of her other family members as well. She had such a supportive family.

Unfortunately, most of our other patients do not have great family support or the financial capabilities to visit from out of state like hers.

Her sister organized a benefit to help raise money to pay some of the medical bills for when her insurance would expire. I donated a photo that raised $200! I forget how much the grand total was, but the event was a success and I'll never forget this family.

Today, I learned of my patient from last night who's condition worsened during the day today. I don't know any of the specifics, but I wanted to share some of our conversation. I had taken some of his medication for him to take around 0400, and he randomly started talking about Paris, France. I realized at that moment he was lonely and just wanted a friend to talk to. Luckily, I didn't have much to get caught up on, so I just let him tell me all about his 4 trips to Paris and other world travels and share his life experiences. I cherish moments like that where the ones with life experience and knowledge just want to share it. I have nothing better to do than to soak it up. I sit here crying, knowing he will never get to take that one more trip to Paris he told me only 12 hours ago he said he would do.

I feel obligated to take that trip for him!

A couple months ago I took care of a patient tragically was brain dead and them family agreed to organ donation. The family had so much love and support. The wife brought every card sent to them and taped them to the walls. As I said above, many families don't have great support, so it was AMAZING to see the support covering the walls, top to bottom, of the bland hospital walls. Again, I cried over seeing that as well!

When I was a brand new nurse, I had an elderly lady who had had a stroke and was unable to walk or feed herself. She and her husband had worked in the horse business their entire life together and were very wealthy. The husband and their children made sure she would get the best care for rehabilitation.

Her husband said this to me one night,"She has helped my build our horse business and been by my side the entire time. Our fortune means nothing to me without her."

I WILL NEVER forget that. It's THE sweetest thing I've ever heard. I hope I find someone who loves me like he loves her.

While there are many other sweet moments, this is just the one and only I'm going to share.

It's common in subarachnoid patients to VERY, VERY confused. Every hour we have to ask them simple questions to see if they are oriented to name, place, and time. In our exam we ask them to follow simple commands, such as holding up 2 fingers, etc. This is more for intubated patients who can't talk, it's a way for us to know they understand. In our old hospital, the rooms were very close and did not have doors. So patient A was the VERY VERY confused lady. and patient B was the intubated patient I asked to hold up his thumb. Patient A heard me asking Patient B to do this, and she yells,"DON'T DO IT, DON'T DO IT, THEY WILL ARREST YOU! DON'T DO IT! THEN THEY WILL KILL YOU!" See? Confused!

I took my patient water with his meds last night and asked him how it was and he replied,"Mmm, Gin and tonic!"

I have tons of other one-liners from our confused patients. It's funny little phrases like that that put a smile on my face.

Through all of the stress, crazy nights where no one in the unit has time to sit down, eat drink or use the bathroom-yes 12 hours without peeing, crazy families who blame you for their family member's injury {yes, this happens}, Drs yelling at you, etc...

there are actually great moments in my job:

The teamwork from my co-workers is indescribable. Nursing couldn't be done by one. It's a team effort. The friendships I've made are irreplaceable and definitely life-long! The kind words, thank you notes from families, and sweet treats they make to say how appreciative they are, is something they don't have to do. To think of us when their loved one is in the hospital going through a very serious time, is so meaningful.

Once again, despite the bad and the sad, I wouldn't trade what I've learned and gained for anything.


  1. I completely relate to all of this. The sweet and funny times and the relationships formed with our patients/families definitely make up for the bad days at work. Being a nurse rocks!!! Wouldn't have it any other way!!!! :)

  2. Great post! I so admire you and what you do. I know that you are an amazing nurse!

  3. Wow---what an amazing post. I did one of my social work internships at Central Baptist and fell in love with the work. You sound like a wonderful nurse!!

  4. fabulous post! thank you from the bottom of my heart. it is people like you that keep the world going :) i admire your you&can truly see that you love every minute of it!

  5. This made me cry. We are definitely Laurens. You are just like me. I cry over everything, just like this post. So touched home for me, and was so lovely to read this and remind me of why I do what I do.
    God Bless you Sweets!