Monday, March 14, 2011


I reached for the silver handle on the Family Waiting Room door and closed my eyes,
bracing for what lie on the other side.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Faces looked up immediately: sad, scared, hopeful. I saw red, swollen eyes that were tired from crying, and exhausted but hopeful gazes. All searching my eyes for good news, a positive word, anything.
I wanted to be that good news for them, I yearned for it from deep within my soul
I wanted to walk up to each one of them and say
Everything is going to be ok from now on.

I searched for the family quickly, walking through each cubicle, 
through people texting and calling,
through people sleeping on the floor,
through friends huddled together and crying,
through people working on their laptops due to being away from work.
Would I worry about work if I had a loved one dying in the ICU? 
Who's to know.
I pushed my judgement aside as I found the family I was looking for. I needed only to look at them and they stood up to follow me.

At this stage of the game, handshakes and small talk were a thing of the past, 
and for that I was thankful.
I led them silently down the long corridor to our destination. 
I cursed myself for not having good news to tell them, anything to say to pass the time. This walk always seems so long and dreary. Each time I walk it, I tend to see the unit through a stranger's eyes, and it's never a fun thing.
Muffled cries from inside patient rooms, machines beeping all the way down the hall,
closed doors with dimmed lights,
hushed voices,
a single loud wail from the other side of the unit: usually a sign someone just passed.
I looked back at the family I was leading, hoping they hadn't heard it.
The mom and dad were pressed together tightly, an exhausted and frightened expression on each of their faces.
The daughter trailed behind by a few steps, eyes wide and wandering. I put my hand on her shoulder,
both as a guide and for comfort. 
She was older than me, and at least two feet taller, but when she looked down at me I knew she felt small and scared.

When we got to our destination I lingered in the doorway for a moment, letting the family take it all in. The daughter started crying and went to the corner of the room, where a single chair sat. 
The dad followed her.
"Is he going to be okay?" The mom asked, leaning over her son in the bed. Her eyes were bloodshot and filled with tears, or maybe it was just the lack of sleep making them appear glossy. In her hand she clutched a damp tissue, occasionally raising it to her eyes, more out of habit than necessity. She had joked about being "all cried out", but from my experience, 
there never seemed to be a limit 
to the amount of tears a mother can cry.

"Well..." I started. Should I give her empty promises? Do I have it in me to give her hope, even if there isn't any? Is it okay to make her feel better, even if it doesn't last long?
Wouldn't I want that, if I was in her position?
Behind her, the daughter was crying quietly, and the dad had his eyes closed,
rocking back and forth slightly. 
Her son. His legacy. Her brother. My patient.
I wanted to become huge, as big as the room, and swallow up this family. I wanted to hold them close and make them feel safe and happy. 
I wanted to take away all the pain.
Oh I wanted.
I wanted..
I wanted.

From the moment I had come on shift I had worked tirelessly on him, adrenaline taking away the need to eat or even use the bathroom. 
It was only now in the early hours of the morning that he was stable enough for me to turn my back on him for a few moments in order to retrieve his family. 
The past 12 hours were a whirlwind: I had spent hours titrating blood pressure drips, starting new drips, and increasing the ones he had. We were maxed out on every pressor we had. I had to be mindful of how many bags I was running through; I was constantly counting my drips and re-counting and re-ordering and hanging new ones. He had 17 drips going, each at different rates, and if I let one so much as beep once, his condition declined immediately.
I was breathing for him through a bag when he wasn't oxygenating enough,
and I was pushing cardiac meds to help his heart pump.
I was cooling him down, warming him up, cooling him down again due to his fever. 
I was drawing labs, blood cultures, urine specimens, and starting antibiotics.
I had pushed every kind of medicine through all his lines he had, 
I had even pulled lines and started new ones.
I had measured cardiac output and index, re-zeroed, re-calibrated, measured again.
 I had hung so many bags of blood that I lost count, but he was bleeding faster than I could replace the loss.  I had suctioned blood from him, hung bags of blood, suctioned more blood, hung more blood.
 I had cleaned his mouth, his skin, his wounds. 
I had re-taped and re-cleaned and then suctioned some more.
 I had called the doctor many times; he was a good doctor, he had come to me three times when I asked. I liked those times, he was the positive affirmation to my suspicions, he was the "go-ahead" on my drug suggestions, he was my legal fall-back and for that I was thankful. 
His visits to the bedside were short-lived, and over too fast. The rest of the time I was on my own, relying only on my nursing intuition and better judgement. He had confidence in me enough to leave.
Now if only I had it in myself.
The sheer nature of my patient's condition demanded my complete and undivided attention all night; sometimes even requiring more than one nurse. 
I had had to ask for help.

 I looked behind me, surprised to see my relief standing in the doorway.  How was it already 7 am and time for me to go home?
There had to be something else I could do to help him.
There had to be something else I could say to his family.
There has to be something, anything.

I turned to go,
leaving the family alone with their loved one.
I know that sometimes there is really nothing to say,
and I hoped that now was one of those times.
It isn't until I give report that I realize how tired I am, and my stomach growls with hunger pains. It's been 15 hours since I've last ate, and it'll be awhile still,
I always sleep before I eat.

Driving home, my eyelids are heavy. I pray for my patient the whole time.
The daughter's face is etched in my memory,
her wordless suffering speaking volumes.
I remembered the way the father rocked back and forth,
trapped in his own bubble of pain.
My body is exhausted but my mind swirls with questions.
Why do bad things happen to good people?
Why is life so unfair?
What more could I have done?
Why can't I save everyone?


Mama G said...

It takes an incredibly strong person to do what you do. I hope your patients know how lucky they are to have you!

CoCo Wray said...

You are a strong individual. I am inspired by you and what you do.