Barrage of Terrible Cases: Remembering to Feel
I don't know if I am alone in the struggle to remember how to feel when bad things happen to other people. I like to be the strong one, the one that can buckle down and get the job done. I am hyper rational and feel that if a tragedy hasn't directly affected me, I have no right to share the grief of a victim's family and friends. But this article is about a weekend at work that shook that theory.
Life can get crazy. For as long as I can remember I've heard all sorts of tragic stories. When I open the newspaper I read about countless bombings, shootings, house fires, and snipers. But I have become numb to the fact that bad things happen, and it takes effort to let myself be affected by them.
I know that it seems cold and insensitive, but if there is nothing that I can do about a situation I pick myself up and move forward. None of these tragedies have directly affected me. They aren't my stories.
I feel like this at work sometimes too.
In the four months since I transferred to the MICU I have seen countless septic cancer patients, alcoholic GI bleeders, and a variety of debilitating autoimmune disorders. Don't get me wrong, I have compassion, I really do. But I know that life happens, and some people get dealt a bad hand.
I know that sooner or later everyone has to deal with an illness or event that will rock their world, and my job is to be there and treat them when it happens. But this weekend has been a barrage of absolutely terrible cases and my normal techniques for leaving work at work just haven't been effective, no matter what I do.
There was the healthy 18 year old girl with a recent orthopedic surgery who had a massive PE and coded for over 2 hours in the ED. For 36 hours she was ventilated and on pressors, they tried arctic sun in the faint hope to conserve functioning brain tissue. But all of our interventions were not enough, and they withdrew care on Sunday.
I will never forget the faces of her two younger siblings as they left her room the day that their big sister died. There were the two men in their early 40's, neither one with significant medical histories.
One had a stroke that herniated on Saturday, the other had an AVM that hemorrhaged and was declared brain dead less than 12 hours later. One minute he woke up from his sleep with a headache and went downstairs for some aspirin, the next minute his wife found him unconscious on the kitchen floor. But I kept on caring for my two patients as I watched these families trying to cope. Like I said, life happens. Right?
Sunday afternoon before the 18 year old's room was even clean the charge nurse came into the nurse's station with the kicker. A woman 7 months post partum with 3 children got into an argument with her husband.
While he was taking a walk to clear his head, she hung herself in a closet and was found by her 5 year old daughter. I felt like a weight was dropped on my chest. Can you even imagine?
Can you imagine being a 5 year old girl and finding your mommy like that? Or being a husband who will blame himself for this for the rest of his life?
And there I was, carrying on with my day.
When I took my patient for walks around the unit, every other room was filled with grieving families. When I left work I went to a superbowl party and everyone was laughing and drinking and having a great time, and all I could think about was the unimaginable grief that 4 families were experiencing.
I couldn't cry until I was alone with my boyfriend last night, when he finally asked me for details on why my weekend was so bad. I told him these stories in between sobs, and for the first time in the last 3 days I really felt something.
So yes, my job is to be there. But it doesn't mean that I can't grieve with the families of my patients.
I am allowed to feel, whether I am involved with the patient's care or not.
I am allowed to cry, even if a tragedy didn't directly affect my life.
And for now, I will hold my nieces and nephews just a little bit longer. And I will say "I love you" just a little bit more often. And I will continue to be thankful that I can walk, and talk, and breathe. Life may be short, but it isn't over yet.Last edit by Joe V on Jan 10, '15
About beckster_01, BSN, RN
beckster_01 has '6' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'MICU'. From 'Western NY'; 28 Years Old; Joined Jan '10; Posts: 556; Likes: 970.Feb 6, '13These are the stories that remind me that life is short and unpredictable.......it is why I never go to bed angry. I don't sweat the small stuff. I choose my arguments wisely...if at all. I hug and kiss my family every day. I tell them how much I love them every day.
While I may be sick myself .........My career has made me thankful for the little things.
Beautifully written...Feb 6, '13Quote from beckster_01People live. People suffer. People die....I couldn't cry until I was alone with my boyfriend last night, when he finally asked me for details on why my weekend was so bad. I told him these stories in between sobs, and for the first time in the last 3 days I really felt something.
So yes, my job is to be there. But it doesn't mean that I can’t grieve with the families of my patients. I am allowed to feel, whether I am involved with the patient’s care or not. I am allowed to cry, even if a tragedy didn't directly affect my life. And for now, I will hold my nieces and nephews just a little bit longer. And I will say “I love you” just a little bit more often. And I will continue to be thankful that I can walk, and talk, and breathe. Life may be short, but it isn't over yet.
As you stated "my job is to be there."
Share both your joy and your pain with those whom you trust. Life is short and precious.
Hold it...reluctantly let it go. As you have seen, what's here is only "here" for a short while.
Hold it, cherish it. Let it go.
((HUGS!!))Feb 6, '13One of the reasons I divorced my first husband was that he could never understand that if I had no feelings at work, I could have no feelings at home. I spent a lot of time in therapy working out how to have both, in a healthy way. It's not instinctive.Feb 6, '13I love this. It really is so important to take a step back and allow yourself to feel. Stress may be unavoidable, but we can take steps to reduce it and make our lives happier.Feb 6, '13Just reading these stories makes me want to cry.
I have felt like you at points in my life, and I think those are points of spiritual drought. I was always close to God and the bible even when I was a little girl but as a teenager I lost focus and I noticed over time my compassion and empathy for others seemed at some points nonexistent. Eventually I found God again (or rather He found me) and now I can't even look at someone suffering without feeling my heart hurting.Feb 6, '13like another poster said , If i dont have many feelings at work i cant have them at home . sometimes that is absolutely fine by me but others see it as cold or distant. i will do my job as a nurse but do not excpect me to cry or fall apart over every dying patient. not to be offensive but i do not get too worked up over most of it in a " this is so sad way". a few affect me,like the ones you mentioned , the ones that affect me are usually younger and previously healthy. like a 32 year old only risky things were smoker and 30+ and birth control who had anmassive stroke now with trach and peg and young children. her 50 some parents were devestated as were her small children and husband . or the post partum mother with a massive pe now nearly dead in icu. or healthy pts in an mva now with amputations or paralyzed. a week ago they were out running miles now it is a big production to get them oob etc. some of those can make me sad or remind me of my own chances in fate and mortality .Feb 6, '13Stories like this are the reason I left the trauma ICU. I've never learned how to care without caring, if that makes sense. I would get involved with the families and my heart would just bleed for them when things ended poorly. There are some amazing ICU nurses I've worked with who could care and be compassionate without letting it get into their heart, and if you can master that you'll be amazing. I've learned ED works better for me, can still do the things I loved in the ICU, but don't get attached. And if I can make my pts smile while waiting on the hard gurney for their admit or discharge, I'm a happy camper. I hope things get better for you, hang in there.Feb 6, '13I was not the nurse caring for these patients but when I read your post-- I held my breath! my heart hurts for these patient in this kind of situation . What is even scarier is the fact that these people have been healthy for the most part, no complicated history.
I can't stress enough how important it is to have compression stockings on at all times, not crossing the legs, heparin inj,and the importance of frequent walking after surgery!! It amazes me how quickly a clot can be dislocated and turn into a PE and soon lead to death--- it is scary to think that an 18 year old with no complication, no history , lost her life from something that can easily be prevented. Many nurses and doctors have told me how important it is to walk pts, have compressions stockings on, because PE can lead to death very quickly! But I didn't know it was as serious until I hear about stories like this ((( lesson learned!Feb 7, '13I loves reading this! I've only been a nurse for a little over a year and my first job is a nurse in a dementia unit. I have multiple people on hospice at a time and my first deaths came in a group of three. Then a bit later three more passed and at one time I went into my bosses office uncontrollably crying. Wondering if I chose the wrong profession because I am completely incapable of not becomjnv attached to my residents. I felt that must mean I wasn't a good nurse. And my boss said no that's what makes you an amazing nurse. I put my heart into every patient and while it may be hard when they pass I know they got the best care possible at end of life. Thankyou for sharing this!Feb 7, '13Thank you all for your kind words! It is good to know that I'm not alone in this kind of thing. It is such a balancing act to stay sensitive to people's struggles, but not to become consumed by them. But having such a great outlet like AN certainly helpsFeb 7, '13Aww,,,thank you for sharing your wonderful story! very touching...this is the reality of life, and every day we have to deal with this..I just experienced a loss of significant other, so I can relate that we should let them feel that we love them as often as we can and we should also be thankful for everyday for God is still giving us another chance to live, so let us live meaningfully!
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