October 03, 2008
Today, I came to the realization that I long for the days when I was a coldhearted, cynical trauma/medevac nurse. It was so much easier taking care of inner city trauma patients, where the knife and gun club was in full swing and the much used excuse of “I was just standing on the corner minding my own business and this dude, this dude, man, he comes up and shoots me for no good reason” was ever present.
Now I long for the days when I didn’t care. For the days when the majority of my patients were where they were because they had been doing something they shouldn’t. For the days when I had no compassion. For the days when a scornful sneer was the expression fixed upon my face as I listened to my drunk or stoned patient alternate between whining, cussing and crying. For the days when I wouldn’t even attempt to make time to deal with the wife or mother reeking of alcohol claiming her baby was "a good boy who never got into any trouble", though this “good” boy had shot four people.
Four years ago I made a change, and in making that change my heart melted. But now some indifference would be welcome, a reprieve for a heart that hurts too much. I want to be that cynical nurse again, the one so cold and standoffish they nicknamed me "the ice princess". God, please! I want that ice. Please take away this pain.
Today, my first day back to work after ten days off, I learned that a patient I have cared for since June has taken a turn for the worse. He was shot in Iraq and gravely injured, and his wife has been at his bedside since the moment he came through our doors. A woman my own age, she and I quickly became friends. She has nothing left of her life before his injury, and her children have been uprooted to live with their grandparents so she can be with him.
She stood up when she saw me and started to talk. She said she had learned from the doctors that due to the latest setback he would no longer get better. He would spend the rest of his life needing 24/7 care and remain in a vegetative state. She said knowing her husband, that would not be what he wanted. Today she made the heart wrenching and difficult decision to withdraw life support. Tears rolled down her face. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and whispered to her, ”If there were anything I could do, I would do it.” She nodded and told me she knew I would. We stood that way for a minute, her stifling the agony inside her and me brushing away the tears flowing from my eyes.
So the children came. After we spruced him up, put on his favorite aftershave, I watched his children come into the room. I watched as they crawled up on the bed and lay beside him. I watched these children, far too young, say goodbye to their dad. Tomorrow when the children leave for their temporary home with their grandparents we will begin to withdraw life-supporting care. His wife asked me how long it would take after we stop everything. Hours, days, weeks? I don’t know and I could not give her an answer.
Tomorrow when I go back to work I will begin the process once again of helping a family whose loved one is dying. Please, can I have that ice?