Nurses - Remember you DO make a difference

I've been a nurse for almost 4 years. Some days I have a love/hate relationship with my profession, but for the most part I do love what I do. As a new grad you are scared to death and have TONS of questions but you are so excited to make a difference in patients' lives. Well, it doesn't take long to lose that. When you see the same thing over and over and deal with one too many pain addict or ungrateful person who doesn't say please or thank you, you start to get jaded.  

You start to put up a wall to protect your own emotions. You forget to see the best in people and automatically assume the worst. You judge a person by their diagnosis or their co-morbidities. You spend the least amount of time possible in a patient's room because there are so many other things you have to do - you have 4 other patients to give meds to, labs to draw, an hour's worth of charting to do... All of this piles up and puts stress on a person and it causes you to lose your excitement. This happened to me. I started to see patients as another "case" rather than a real person who truly needed my help.

I'm going to tell a story that changed my attitude toward nursing. (*names are changed and details left out to protect patient privacy). This is the story of Mrs. Potts and her sweet husband.

I got a call about 5:30 am letting me know that I was going to be "on call" on this particular day. They also said that one other person was on call which meant my chance of getting called in was slim. (YaY!) I was 8 months pregnant at the time and I was MORE than happy to get an unexpected day off! In my mind I started thinking about all the things I could get done if I didn't have to go into work, and then I fell back asleep. 

Then I got another call about 7:30 saying they needed me to come in. And the other nurse who was on call was being called in too. I knew they didn't admit THAT many patients in that short amount of time and was mad that we were both having to come in. When I got to work I found out that our manager wanted the other nurse to come in to re-organize the supply room and he wanted me to take a new ICU admit. Well this made me even more mad because she could have taken the new admit. Why couldn't he organize the supply room? Isn't that what central supply is for? Why couldn't they do it? 

But looking back, God was looking out for me that day. It just took me several months to realize it.

So I got report from the ER on this patient coming to me. She was an elderly lady who had a history of severe dementia. She had been in the hospital before and I remembered taking care of her. Her dementia was so advanced that she wasn't able to talk much and she couldn't do much for herself. Basically the report I got from the ER nurse was that she was very sick and in her last hours. Her blood pressure was low, she was tachycardic, they couldn't keep her oxygenated, etc.etc... Her husband had already told the doctor that she did not wish to be resuscitated or intubated if it came to that point (she was a DNR).

We got her to the ICU and the doctor spoke with the husband. He told the doctor "just keep her comfortable. I don't want her to suffer." So we started her on a morphine drip to keep her comfortable. And that's pretty much all we did for her. The sweet lady couldn't talk to me but I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was tired of fighting. Her vital signs remained stable for a few hours and the husband told me that he was going to go home and get some sleep because he had been up all night in the ER. At this point she was so stable we thought it may be a while before she passed. He went home to rest and another family member stayed with her. 

She did well for most of the afternoon and seemed to be resting comfortably. Then around 3:00 I noticed her heart rate starting to slow and her blood pressure starting to drop. She had also started to have periods of apnea, so I knew it wouldn't be long. I called Mr. Potts at home and told him he needed to come back to the hospital. I kept praying and praying that he would get back in time. Thankfully, he and a few other family members got up there in time to say their goodbyes. He gave her a goodbye kiss and she passed away a little after 5. I could tell by the way he looked at her and talked to her that he loved her with all his heart for a very long time. It takes a strong person to take care of someone in her state. 

I felt sorrow for this family. He was such a sweet man and he just lost his wife, the woman he had loved for most of his life. I did everything I could to comfort him and to help him feel at peace. But I didn't cry - I don't cry. I see this all the time. Crying is weakness. I can't let the family see my weakness. - So I stayed strong and sucked it up.

Fast forward to about 7 months later. I had just started a new job at another hospital. On my second week at this new job I received a letter. I thought "this is weird, I haven't been here long enough to be getting a letter. Who could this be from?" I opened the letter and it was from Mr. Potts. It stated that he had been at Madison visiting a family member the week before and he asked one of the nurses about me. He asked who the pregnant nurse was that took care of his wife. She told him my name and that I no longer worked there but that he could reach me in my new unit. In his letter he expressed how appreciative he was for the care that I gave his wife. He was thankful that I had called him at home and that he was able to give her a final kiss. He said that even though it was a sad day, he has no bad memories because of the care that he received from the staff.

I cried like a baby when I read his letter. (and I don't cry, remember?) It made me realize the impact that I have on every single patient. Whether I only take care of them for a few hours or for a week. It reminded me to really look at what is going on with the person and to strive to make their lives better, even if they are in the worst of circumstances (and yes - even if they're a huge jerk). It reminded me that I have to take care of the family too. 

I am so thankful that Mr. Potts took the time to write to me. I pray to God quite often and thank him for putting Mr. and Mrs. Potts into my life at the perfect time. And I am thankful that I got called in that day, even though I was NOT happy about it that morning! God's timing is perfect, and I am seeing this more and more each passing day.

So Nurses, whether you've been working for a month or for 40 years, please take a look at your attitude toward your job and your patients. You make a difference in EVERY little thing you do.

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