I see by the glowing green light on my 80's digital alarm clock I have missed the article contest deadline by 8 minutes. Granted, the forums were down and I was unable to submit at 2350 (when I first attempted to log in) but that hardly excuses my month long procrastination. But I have some thoughts to share, regardless of deadlines, so here goes...
You don't get to be a nurse for almost 20 years and not learn a few tricks of the trade to survive. Gallows, irreverent humor runs rampant; despite all the teachings contrary, you often end up referring to a patient by bed number instead of name; you try not to personalize the tragedy that you see all around you, and the number one rule? You never, ever, take a patient home with you. Oh, I am still compassionate, competent and caring ~ not to worry, as Nurse Rachet can keep her badge. Yet there is a certain wall, a barrier built by years of working in the trenches. Work stays at work; and when I (finally) walk out that door, I leave all thoughts of those patients and their suffering behind. I did my best to guarantee their survival, and now I must do my best to guarantee mine.
So I have gotten quite good at all of these coping mechanisms; you have to if you work in the trauma intensive care unit of a level one trauma center. But today, there was such a tangible sadness, it haunts me in these wee hours of the morning.
Bed one: 30 years old, auto accident, with massive internal injuries. I can see he was once quite handsome, the man behind the tubes, drips and drains. We heard that his pregnant wife was killed. We also heard that down in the ED, the drunk driver who hit them was cursing up a storm at the "lousy service from the damn nurses" while waiting for a minor laceration to be sewn up.
Bed two: 19 year old kid whipped out a sawed off shot gun and pulled the trigger as his girlfriend, who just broke up with him, was walking out the door. Allegedly, his last words were "What will make you stay?" The left half of his face is gone. Completely gone. And now she never leaves his bedside.
Bed three: 22 years old, got in a bar fight. A random punch made him hit the pavement in just such a way that it caused brain death. The family, sobbing and with grief in the stratosphere, have agreed to allow organ donation. This freckled face kid, looking so peaceful and serene, will have his organs harvested later this shift.
Bed four: 16 year old kid, drive by shooting. He died just before shift change. Sigh. Add him to the countless others.
Bed five: 32 years old father of twins, was stabbed by his wife. "If she calls, tell her I love her" was the last thing he managed to gasp before they intubated him.
Eleven more beds, each with a story similar to the last.
I am home now, and I am exhausted. But I can't go to bed just yet. It will be too crowded. Because damn if I didn't break the golden rule and take every one of those patients home with me tonight.