I’ve been meaning to put up a new post here for the past few days. I worked a lot as a Registered Nurse at the hospital, though, and was so tired I kept putting it off for “another time.” Yesterday I got out of work early in the morning after a completely exhausting and bizarre night shift and I had a good idea of a post I’d like to write. I sat down at the computer and was so tired I couldn’t even log into my WordPress account. I had ideas of sentences and paragraphs in my head describing an amazing experience I’d had that shift as a nurse. This experience was a realization of where I am in my career, how I finally found my place in my field and a career-defining moment I had in the care of a patient that made me feel all the struggle was worthwhile.
My last shift this past weekend I was assigned a new patient. My patient assignment usually changes here and there, but when you work consecutive nights it is nice to have the same assignment for consistency, follow-up and streamlining of tasks to do. I had a new patient on my assignment and I was so tired, I really dreaded having to get to know a new patient and routine.
My patient was a new stroke. A young guy by my standards, and who was someone who didn’t like to admit they needed help. He had a hard time accepting that he could no longer get out the words he wanted to say, he couldn’t move as easily as he had before, and was very frustrated. His brother stayed with him to help out during the healing process. I immediately noticed the vulnerability of this “tough guy.” His struggles to find the words were heart breaking for me, but nothing I didn’t expect from a stroke patient with expressive aphasia (someone who can never find the words they want to say, but can understand everything that is said to them). I spent my time saying things out loud that he might want, like a guessing game. “Are you in pain?” “Are you cold?” “Do you want a blanket?” “Are you thirsty?” and so on. His brother was also helpful in interpreting and they were both very appreciative for the help I was offering.
At around four in the morning, his brother wheeled him around the nurses station to get a change of scene. They wheeled up to where I was at the nurses station and he tried to say how he was feeling. He made hand gestures and his eyes filled with tears. I said “Are you scared?” And he said “yes.” He took my hand and said “thank you.” and his brother helped him explain how he was afraid of what was happening. I reassured him that he was doing so much better than the day before when he first came to the unit. That day he wasn’t even able to find any words and was very frustrated. When I said he had already improved, he kept saying “thank you” to me. I got him a box of tissues and he and his brother went back into their room. In the morning when I left, I met up with the brother at the elevator. He thanked me for my help with his brother and said “You’re a good woman.” I never know how to take compliments so I immediately told him “your brother is lucky to have a good brother like you around to help him out.” And I went home.
I then sat in front of the computer and didn’t know how to write this meaningful patient interaction down into a structured, essay format for my blog. It was overwhelming sitting at the keyboard to explain why making a difference and helping people is why I went into nursing in the first place. This experience with my new stroke patient, who I was not happy about having in the first place, turned into a very satisfying, rewarding and defining moment for me in my nursing career. How do I find the right words to explain how working as a nurse to help make a difference in the lives of my patients and their families is what it’s all about for me? I had no idea how to write all this down, so I instead I surrendered to my mind numbing exhaustion and went to sleep.
Three hours into my sleep I was awakened by a phone call from my mother saying it was hard for her to speak. Her speech was slurred and she didn’t know what was going on. I told her to unlock her front door and I was calling and ambulance and would come right over. I told her it sounded like she might have had a stroke. When I arrived at her apartment the ambulance was there and she was ready to be taken to the hospital I work at. She was tired but alert. Her speech was getting more difficult. The whole drive to the hospital I followed that ambulance she was in. I kept staring at it while also wondering what was going on. Was she getting sicker? Was she scared? I flashed back to the times in my childhood when my mother was the pillar of strength in our family. How she never got sick and always boasted “I’m as healthy as a horse.” Now I was in a position of wondering if she will be able to live alone anymore, will she need to go to a nursing home. I realized she was not invincible. She was human and frail and mortal.
At the hospital, the doctors sent her out for testing and monitoring and we ended up staying in the Emergency Department for hours. My sister and I took a break to look for coffee and in the elevator was my patient’s brother. When I told him I was there because my mom had a stroke he became immediately concerned and alarmed. Here he was now comforting me in my moment of vulnerability. “She’s a great nurse,” he told the person he was with as we all walked on towards our destinations.
As I made my way onto my unit there was my new stroke patient from the night before. His face lit up when he saw me, and when I explained why I was there he looked at me with empathy. And then he reached out for my hand. I had no idea how much that would mean to me. Usually as a nurse I am the one who is in control of the situation, but here my own patient was giving me the same comfort I had given to him less than twelve hours before. I’m not good with moments like that. I thanked him and left shortly thereafter with my sister and our coffee.
That moment will never be forgotten. I believe that people and patients come into our lives for a reason. Somehow there is a purpose, and it is up to us to find the meaning and significance. I have always said how I learn from my patients and get my strength from them. However, I’ve been a nurse for some time now. Recently I’ve been on a quest to find out where else my nursing career can go besides working at the bedside – which quite often is physically and emotionally exhausting. Yet, this one moment I had with my new stroke patient changed my doubts. It has renewed my spirit. I don’t think I could ever leave the bedside and working in direct patient care. For me, there is no more rewarding place to be.