Sunday, May 18, 2008

Nursing 101: Everybody Dies.

Speaking as a nurse who appreciates professional behavior, I have never trusted any nurse (or doc or aide) who says that they "love" their patients. They either don't mean it (which would make them liars), or.........they DO mean it, which is so far beyond creepy that I'm giving myself the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it. I've been fortunate enough to have never been hospitalized, but should that occasion arise, any nurse who says she loves her patients is barred from my room. (They're the ones who would be carrying syringes of pancuronium in their pockets; "The better to have to resuscitate you, my dear.") Medical staff shouldn't be getting their emotional jollies from the patients. It's non-therapeutic, thus counter-productive.

I often enjoy chatting with my patients about subjects unrelated to the status of their health. We talk about news, and movies and how cute their grandchildren are, and there's no harm done. It puts patient and nurse at ease. And I've had times when I truly sympathized with a patient or their family over a bad outcome. Fresh out of nursing school and barely into my orientation at that hospital where I worked, I was assigned to watch a patient die. It was late in the dayshift and there were admissions and discharges whizzing in and out. The nurses were short-staffed and there was no one else available. It wasn't a physically onerous task, nor a complicated one. The man was suffering from end-stage liver failure and was hemorrhaging from....everywhere, but especially his esophagus. He was conscious and aware and resigned. There were no family members present. We were total strangers to each other. I pulled up a chair and sat with him, rising only to empty his emesis basin when it had filled with blood or to replace soiled linens. We were calm as he lay dying, and the atmosphere was of a deep and resounding finality. It wasn't good and it wasn't bad. But he was leaving all he'd ever known and he knew I was there with him. It was a communion of sorts.

And that's all I have to say on the matter. (I've got plenty more to say, but if I said it all, my fingers would fall off.) Oh no, there is one more thing. Remember my charge nurse on 2nd shift? (You worked with her in another situation.) When her mother was admitted with advanced cancer, my charge nurse assigned me to be with her. She did it because she knew she could trust me to do right by her mom. That was an honor. I'll always feel honored by that trust.

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