I’m a registered nurse.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “How do you deal with cleaning poop off people?” and “You just do what doctors tell you to do, what’s so hard about that?”
To start off: 1) Poop is a normal human process. If you can’t poop you have bigger problems. Like the discomfort of constipation or hepatic encephalopathy from your cirrhotic liver; and 2) No, I do not just do what doctors tell me to do. Orders are…more like guidelines than actual rules.
I spend 36 hours a week (if not more, depending on whether or not I feel like picking up overtime- a decision usually dictated by the stage of the moon) at the bedside providing care for 5-6 patients per night. I also work the night shift, 1900-0700. On a good night, I pass handfuls of medications to patients who quietly drift off to sleep. On a bad night, I want to gauge my own eyes out with the nearest sharp object.
Okay, that last statement was a bit exaggerated (I’ve seen patients with eye enucleations. Not pretty). Most nights fall somewhere in between these two extremes and that’s where I like for my nights to be. Busy enough to keep the time flowing, slow enough that my head isn’t spinning. However the past 6 six shifts or so have been almost torture. I say “almost” because I’m an optimist, kind of.
The moon has been as full as ever, and the hospital fully reflects the glow of that milky white orb that determines so many nurses’ fates. To top it off, our census has been through the roof (good for job security, bad for nurse to patient ratios) meaning that we cram patients into our semiprivate rooms like they’re sardines.
Recently I cared for two patients squashed into a semiprivate on my floor. The first patient was a well educated man with an extensive infection that had to be treated with just about every antibiotic you can think of. Vancomycin, ampicillin, zosyn, tobramycin, etc. He was pleasant enough, until his confusion set in from the narcotics. His eyes glazed over with a foggy look and he’d wildly inquire about random questions about a business he used to run. His family was trying as well, questioning minute details of nursing care, such as why I would bring him water without ice one time and water with ice the next. I know it’s all part of the whole “my loved one is in the hospital so I’m going to control everything” gig, but come on. Let me work here.
My other patient in this room was middle aged. He had a genetic condition from birth that required constant care from his now elderly mother, who held his hand as gently as the day he was born. This patient scared me a little at first because he was my first patient with legitimate special needs (being difficult does not count as a special need- if it did, I would specialize in caring for patients with special needs) and I was unsure of how to approach him. Needless to say, when his primary care doctor stated that he needed a urinary catheter to help his bladder drain, my first thought went a little something like this:
Luckily for me, someone else had to come place it. However, this person was not so gentle and pretty much mangled this patient’s genitals with a rubber catheter and didn’t even think twice about it. All the while, the first patient I was caring for on the other side of the room was being bolted awake by his roommate’s desperate screams from having a piece of rubber rammed up his blocked urethra.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to get to the other side of the room to care with the guy who has the infection. When I finally maneuver past the first family, I discover the infection guy snoring like a log on the other side of the curtain that divides the room. “Huh,” I thought, “His pain must be OK right now.”
So I stepped up to him and touched his arm to wake him. It was time for his medication. I said his name softly only to get no response. So I said it louder and shook him a little. Still nothing. Freaking out now, I’m sternal rubbing this man trying to get him to respond while the roommate is shrieking bloody murder on the other side of the curtain. Still no response from infection man. Fully panicking now, I run to the hall to grab the machine that takes our vitals. I yell at another nurse for help, and she grabs the glucometer to check his blood sugar. The unresponsive patient’s wife is now shaking him when I return, and I thank my lucky stars that he is awake. Albeit confused and irritable, he is awake and responsive. Thank God.
My other patient on the other side of the curtain had quieted as well. I guess the urologist decided that 25 minutes of trying to cath the poor man was enough. I stopped on his side of the room to bid him goodbye for the day, and tears welled to my eyes as he calmly and gently told me goodbye, as if nothing was bothering him. As if a cold resident who didn’t even order the man a dose of IV ativan before the procedure hadn’t just preformed a traumatic unsuccessful procedure. He was sent home to die later that week.
I wept for that patient. I cried for his family. I cried for him. I cried for the heartless person who caused him intense pain with no remorse. But mostly, I cried for myself. It felt good to feel human and have human emotions when I had begun to grow a cold crust on my soft heart.
I became a nurse so I could funnel these intensely human emotions into a rewarding career of helping people. Mostly now I feel sad and the weight of the world smothers me. People are mean. People are liars. but most of all, people are human. And I forgive people who shout at me (and even people who throw urine on me). I forgive people who say the worst things that I think about my own self to my face. I’m a nurse. I will carry the weight of my patients until it breaks me down.