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Life, Lessons, Changes and Renewal

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.

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About Fortyteen Candles

oh, let's see...distinguished Gen-X'er, frustrated writer, suffocating in the confines of a small town that thinks it's a big deal. A few years ago we were home to the second largest Walmart in our state, don-cha-know. Oh, and I was voted "Most New Wave" in my senior high school year book. Actually, that last sentence alone is really everything you need to know about me.

68 responses »

  1. Awesome post! A great nurse makes a hospital stay exponentially better for patients and their supporters. Their kindness is never forgotten, even when it is as simple as bringing blankets to people who won’t budge from chairs in a frigid ICU room. When they can have a greater impact, it’s amazing. I hope that you mother is doing better.

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  2. This is beautifully written. I love it. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Amazing post. It hit home for me, as last year I had a hospital stay when a routine kidney operation had some major complications and my 48-hour anticipated stay turned into three weeks. It was an extremely difficult and terrifying time for me, and there were two nurses in particular who really helped me. I’ll never forget them.

    You have a very special job and it takes a very special person to do it well. It’s nice to hear that occasionally a portion of the comfort and compassion you give to your patients returns back to you.

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  4. 40 is the new 13

    Wow. What a powerful post. How deeply felt and exceptionally well said.

    Your writing made me think this event was probably just as meaningful for your new patient and his brother as it was for you. What a gift for them… to be able to repay your kindness and compassion by sharing their own. And it must have strengthened them quite a lot to feel they were also able to do some good for a special person… despite their own difficulties… and in such a time of need.

    How is your mother? I hope to hear all is well with her… and for you.

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    • Thank you, 40 is the new 13. This post was very hard to write, and is still hard for me to read without crying. In fact, I cry every time I read it. My mom is still in the hospital. This is going to be a long recovery and every day is a new day. Thank you for asking. I appreciate your comments.

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  5. Fortyteen,

    First, my heartfelt hope that your mother is doing/or soon will be doing better. You did her proud by helping her in what must have been terrifying for her — just as you did for your new patient and his brother.

    As I’ve told you before, nurses make the difference between a hellish stay in the hospital and on where you can accept the fact that you have and illness/problem and will let them help you help yourself.

    I will always be in awe of the nurses who have helped me (more times than I care to remember). It is so good that you got a tangible taste with your new patient of how much you have done for them. Well done!

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    • Thank you, Elyse. Nurses do make a difference. Being on the patient family side now, I can see how much more comforting it is when you make a personal connection with your nurse. This has been an eye-opening experience for me. The timing of my own experience on the patient side immediately following my experience on the other side of this issue as a nurse is quite ironic. But meaningful. Thank you for your comments.

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  6. Oh, my gosh, you made me cry. What a beautiful post. I’ve been thinking lately about changing to a line of work that’s more compassionate and involved than what I currently do. Not sure where it will lead, but stories like this are so inspirational. Thanks so much for being a nurse and best wishes to your mother and your patient.

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    • Thank you for your thoughts and comments, ambergravitt. Nursing is very rewarding. It is one of the only professions that you can make such a personal and significant difference in the lives of others. I’m actually a second career nurse after spending a few years in a grey cubical in corporate America. I never looked back. Good luck to you in your search for a new profession!

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  7. I agree with all the above. You made me shed a tear as well! Being an nurse living the dream during the night as well, it is refreshing to know these kind of moments continue to be embedded into our journey as the universe’s way of telling us to continue what we are doing. Very touching. God bless, Fortyteen!

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  8. I had tears in my eyes reading that! How is she?

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  9. How heartwrenching to read this post! I can’t imagine how hard it was to write it. I hope your mom feels better down the road, even if the road to recovery is a long one. My soon to be ex husband had a traumatic brain injury last January, which is basically a stroke. He recovered after a lot of therapy and I can’t thank everyone who helped him, although he was very ungrateful himself. That was the hardest part to witness for me.

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  10. So sorry to hear your mom is in the hospital. I really believe that people come into our lives with certain messages to share with us. Just keep your eyes and heart open to all the message coming into your life and they’ll lead you to where you need to go.

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  11. Wishing your mom a speedy recovery! Great post definitely written from your heart! I think you are where you are needed:>)

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  12. Sometimes it’s OK for us nurses to be vulnerable as well 🙂 Great post.

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  13. My best wishes for your mom’s recovery. I’ve worked desk and supervisory jobs, but it’s the places where I was the closest to the patients that had the biggest impact- and yes- it is draining, physically and emotionally.

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    • Thank you for your best wishes! Yes, it is very stressful being on the frontlines of patient care. Very rewarding, but very stressful. I don’t know how anyone can retire at the bedside. You just wear out.

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      • Yeah. I loved it. Disability took me out too early, and I miss it every day.

      • A very good friend of mine had to leave the bedside after a disability preventented her from doing anything but “light duty.” Is there such a thing in nursing? No. She was an amazing nurse and this was a great loss to the floor and to our present and future patients. Sorry you went through the same thing. Hope you can find a way to fill that direct patient care experience as a nurse in some other capacity.

      • Unfortunately, I’m a complete ‘loss’. I have intolerance to heat (anything over 66 degrees) because of dysautonomia. I pass out if I get overheated, hurt (I have fibromyalgia and chronic headaches), or overly tired. Since going on disability I’ve had pulmonary emboli (all 3 lobes of right lung full of acute, sub-acute, and chronic clots- I should be dead), torn the medial meniscus on both knees and ACL on one; knee replacement on Right, scars from PEs, worsening dysautonomia, heart issues, balance problems, inability to walk distances without support, etc. Now diabetes is way out of control post chemo for leukemia… it’s been a mess- but thankfully I’ve had the nursing knowledge to navigate the healthcare system. 🙂

  14. Praying for your mom. So enjoyed your blog.

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  15. Excellent post! Funny, this must be a time of year for thinking about mothers because that’s what I wrote about too. Maybe it’s because it’s September. Really fine post.

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  16. If I’m ever in hospital I would hope someone like you is there caring for me. God bless and I hope your mums oK. The new info on the brains neuroplasticity should give both you and your patient casue for hope.xxx

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  17. Pingback: Life, Lessons, Changes and Renewal « katzideas

  18. Just a wonderful post.My sister;s husband and mine have both been in hospital recently and I liked to hear your thoughts as a nurse….and how loving you are,,,Thank you,i;m glad I found thus

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  19. During my hospital stay my nurse from the day before came back to check on me on her day off. Knowing that I had trouble eating, she went and picked me up some soup. I will never forget it! Great nurses are a treasure. Thank you for being a great nurse!

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    • A hospital stay is so much better when you have a great experience like yours. Glad to hear your nurse was able to do this for you. I’ve actually brought in food for a patient as well! One of my patients was craving a taco, and a new restaurant opened up. I brought him one the next day. He was very happy…and surprised!

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  20. Wow, amazing love. Thank you so much I needed to read every word you wrote today.

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  21. Very touching. Everything happens for a reason.

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  22. My wife was hospital nurse in Oncology. She would work long hours and come home both physically and emotionally drained. I used to wait for her arrival home and then take the time to “debrief” her after every shift. All her patients died. In some cases they would recover for a time but in the vast majority of cases it was a temporary reprieve.

    The stories that touched me the most involved the relatives of these terminal patients. Some had to endure treatment alone, with no one there for emotional support. They generally passed away quicker than those with a larger support system. Entire families would be there, encouraging their loved one and doing what they could at home to take the burden of care for their loved ones.

    About 8 years ago I was rushed to the emergency room with congestive heart failure. My BP was 255/150 and I was blue. After my stay in intensive care I was released early due to a disastrous train accident locally, involving a chlorine spill that killed 13 and injured hundreds. The hospital needed my room. In the rush nobody noticed my urethra collapsed when my catheter was removed. That eventually led to an operation known as a TURP.

    It’s a lonely feeling lying in a hospital bed in intensive care. I had IVs in both arms, a catheter hooked to a foley bag on a pole and an oxygen tube mixture up my nose. I was extremely embarrassed when forced to use a bed pan that first night. My male nurse tried to put me at ease, stating it was no big deal. My first visitor, my sister, promptly pulled out her camera to “capture the moment”. I could have killed her at that exact moment.

    I want to reiterate how much I admire you for your choice of professions. Not everyone can keep it together under such extreme physical & emotional stress. I pray your support system is helping you cope. Thank you for sharing your life. – Bob

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    • Wow…your wife is amazing to work in such an environment of sadness. I know a few people who work in Hospice and it really is a calling. God bless her and the work she does for her patients and their families. I agree, family support is huge in a patient’s recovery. I see it all the time where I work. I’m sorry you had such a scary experience in the ICU. It is lonely being a patient. I work night shifts so I often see people when they are by themselves, worrying, sad and depressed. The strength of the human spirit is what pulls us through in our moment of need. I hope you are doing better now and your CHF is being controlled. Thank you for your kind words. Being on the patient/family side now I see the huge difference a caring nurse can make in the experience of being in a hospital. I’m glad you enjoyed my story, it was very cathartic for me to share. It has also made me more connected with my WordPress community. Take care.

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      • I went for two years without medical insurance after my employer, Intel Corp, closed an obsolete Fab ib 2010. My trusty doctor balked when I told her I could not afford the A1C blood tests ever 3 months because she also charged me $220 each time for an office visit just to tell me the results. I could get that information online for free but she insisted on the visits. She finally cut off all my medication refills and suggested I go to a clinic. My blood pressure & blood sugar suffered without medications until the Veterans Administration granted me a hardship case and I started getting free medical coverage. My blood pressure, under medication, is now 114/62 and my blood sugars is a full 2 points lower. I’m eating right & exercising. 🙂

      • How awful to have to go through an illness like you had without insurance. It is scary to think how often it happens to people. I’m so glad to hear you are doing better. Your blood pressure is looking good! Stay healthy…sounds like you are on the right path 🙂

  23. I know you are tied up with your mom ight now but I nominated you for the Booker Award cos of your nursing expertise…hope it’s a pick-up even if you don’t have the time to act on it. Leanne

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  24. Okay, lady we need to connect! I am an occupational therapist and I related to the story almost exactly only mine was a spinal cord injury young guy (by my standards, too). After you liked my post about my mom, I came back to yours and realize we are cosmic suburbanites. I plan on following you, now. You get it…

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  25. Thank you. Your post (and your liking mine!) came to me as a serendipitous angel. Best wishes to you. Keep writing. I will read it!

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  26. A couple of years ago my wife was in hospital with a chronic illness. It is profoundly unsettling to see a loved one go through a medical emergency, and although the nurses deal with it day in and day out, a kind smile and warm words does far more than I think they ever realize. So thank you for all you do.

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  27. Beautiful and touching story that is well written because it is written from the heart – not according to some writer’s technical formula. With all the warmth and compassion it embodies, I also had to smile when you said ‘people and patients come into our lives’ – spoken like a true nurse. Your patients are people of course but I understand the sentiment. Even five years into retirement, I still see the world as soldiers and everybody else – same idea. Please keep writing. I get the feeling that if we met, I’d agree with your patient’s brother, you’re a good woman.

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    • Thank you so much. I was definitely written from the heart. I wasted too many years trying to follow other people’s ideas of how to structure writing. Too much focus on the mechanics and the emotions are lost. Like they say, Write what you know.

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  28. Thank God for you. Nurses who care and who go the extra mile are probably the most precious humans on this planet. I’ve had experience with nurses who were amazing, and ones who clearly are either over it, or just don’t care and the impact of the positive experience is so far reaching and unbelievable. Last week an old friend went into the hospital. She was alone in the emergency room, and her heart stopped. They revived her and put her in ICU. The nurses went through her phone and called anyone they could. They were unable to find a relative. I heard from a mutual friend who was unable to call, so I spoke to the ICU and was connected to a nurse named Anne. Can I tell you how much it meant to me that this woman sat beside my friend, speaking to her even though she was comatose and feeling sad that she was on her own? She told me frankly that it didn’t look good, and I understood. I did my level best to find family members, and sadly she did pass a few days later. But the knowledge that this kind hearted woman was there to help her lightened the sadness of the situation. So, thank you for all you do, on behalf of those of us who have family in the hospital, for patients who can’t express to you that what you do is crucial, and that you are the epitome of kindness and compassion. I will pray for your mother’s full recovery and I hope you never stop writing.

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    • Thank you so much for sharing that story, magzmama. Nurses are there for their patients #1. Some do get burned out…it’s an incredibly demanding job. I recall sitting with a hospice patient all through the night while she was alone. I spoke with her as well and took care of her, wondering if she could hear me. I treat all my patients with the philosophy “This is someone’s child/parent.” It’s that simple. Thank you for your prayers. I won’t ever stop writing.

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  29. One of the best and most moving posts I’ve ever read. God bless you for all the kindness you show to others, and all the good that you do. Your post gave me a tremendous boost– just knowing there are people like yourself renews my faith and gives me hope for the future.

    Coming in pretty late here. Hope your mom continues to improve. How about the “tough guy” who suffered the stroke? Hope he’s battling back as well.

    Your Wal-Mart jokes made me laugh. You’re obviously a cool person who’s far exceeded her Most New Wave categorization!! Thanks again, wishing you all the best. : )

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    • Boy, I am really glad to read your comment! It means a lot for me to hear that my writing has such an impact on other people. I never get feedback on my work because I really write in secret. Thank you for your compliments. Many nurses I work with are just as compassionate as I am. It takes a caring person to go into a caring field such as mine. My mom is home and recovering well, thanks. The “tough guy” really made an incredible recovery. He was talking clearly on his last few days there and it was just an amazing thing to hear him speak of how well cared for he was in our unit. That meant a lot to all of us nurses. Thanks for stopping by! Hope you will visit again 🙂

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      • Wonderful news about your mom and Mr. Tough Guy! : )

        Please do keep writing. One can never hear too much about kindness and compassion at work in the world. You and your fellow caregivers are an inspiration and a sustaining force. I shall definitely stop by again. : )

      • Thank you so much for your support and kind words. I’m glad to know it is important for people to hear about the selfless and lifesaving work nurses do. Perhaps I’ll write more about it sometime. Glad to know you’ll stop by again.

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