Thursday I began a twelve hour day taking report. My co-worker apologetically told me today would be difficult. The patient was doing poorly and it was likely she would pass away within the next few days.
I listened to report and the anxiety began to overcome me, I’m not made for this type of nursing.
I had 4 patients that day, but one that would need me most.
I saw her first and followed the morning catching up with my other three only to be back in her room in between assessments.
At 10:00 AM my patient’s son had finally made it to the hospital. I met and found him with his face in his palms, sobbing.
These are the moments they don’t and can’t prepare you for in school.
That no one can prepare you for.
I sat across from him discussing things I didn’t want to. Hospice care, comfort measures, his mom’s last wishes, all things that should have been discussed with this family long before today. Thankfully I have an incredible, hands on boss who also sat with the family to discuss their options.
Following that the physician was called and comfort measures would finally begin for this patient. A patient who now had a partially collapsed lung. Breast cancer with mets to the colon and other places in her body. Morphine was given only to be increased quickly due to her pain. Hospice was consulted but bed availability wouldn’t be known until the next day.
The family left late morning and her and I were left together. I swabbed her mouth with sponges and placed lip moisturizer over and over again to make sure her lips wouldn’t completely crack. And then I asked her the most random question, a question which probably doesn’t seem that important to people when someone is dying but I would have done anything to make her comfortable. So I asked,
“Do you want me to wash your hair.”
Her weak head nodded yes and so I did, I washed the little hair she had left.
By late afternoon it was becoming difficult to make her more comfortable. She was anxious so I called her son and requested he come back to her bedside. In between seeing my other patients again I found myself back in her room. This time she didn’t need her hair washed, this time she needed someone to hold her hand.
She was scared. She was alone. And she needed someone. I was her nurse. So there we sat together. She laid with her eyes closed. I held her hand and spoke to God praying over her silently. There we sat. There I cried wiping the tears away quickly in case she opened her eyes because it was me who was supposed to be strong.
I had an hour left in my shift and her son finally arrived back. After updates and more pain medication I left them alone to give report to the next twelve hour nurse coming on.
As I went to leave for the day I peaked in the room one last time and they both were resting peacefully. I didn’t have the heart to wake them so I left.
I’m never going to be made for this type of nursing, but it’s not my job or decision to decide which type of nursing I’m prepared for because what I need to be is prepared for what my patient needs from me.
But it’s moments like these I’m reminded of what nursing is truly about.
What a privilege it is to be a nurse. What incredible lessons our patients have taught us about life. What incredible opportunities we have been given to participate in their lives. What an incredible career we are able to experience that the rest of this population will never understand.
It’s days like today that you won’t be able to explain as you walk into the door with a tear stained face, only to feel guilty because you know how grateful you should be that you are happy and alive, that your family and friends are in front of you happy and alive.
It’s days like today where you will go to bed and pray for your patients. Where you’ll wake up in the middle of the night and think about them. It’s days like today where the rules of nursing are thrown out the window because what your patient needs right now is not policy and procedure type of nursing, but for you to sit with them at the bedside. For you to hold their hand. It’s days like today where you wash their hair.
It’s days like today where you are tired. So tired. So defeated because you’ll go over again and again in your mind if you could have done more. It’s days like today that will make you a nurse. Days like today with patients you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
It’s days like today that are so hard, yet so humbling. And it’s these patients who will teach you the most about life. What it’s truly all about.