To Touch A Soul
In a seemingly long 12 hour day the time to mark off all the tasks on our to-do list often fades the meaningful part of our work into the shadows of the hours that pass us by. Sometimes, one patient surprises us and casts a glow on the shadow of caring that has faded into the workload, and reminds us that our work transcends the lists of medications, bedpans and documentations. Sometimes the reminder that the work we do matters is shared in the most unexpected ways.
We referred to him as Mr. Comatose.
His chart had him diagnosed as mentally ill and he was mostly comatose. He was blind. He never spoke. We were unsure if he heard anything. He barely moved. He was a complete care patient.
He made us wonder. What goes past such a body that neither speaks, or moves nor seems to understand? Do the medications we carefully calculate and administer have a purpose other than to just maintain a beating heart? It sometimes felt as if he were a mock patient like those we had practiced on in labs during our training; except this one had no remotes or buttons that triggered any form of communication. It was as if we were cleaning and turning a being that had skin and bones and even a beating heart, yet still lacked life. It was as if we were caring for a lifeless manikin; the life of the task, of one human to another, from a nurse to a patient, seemed to be lacking from our daily encounters with Mr. Comatose.
Is this where our job is summed into a daily set of tasks and checklists to mark off? It sometimes felt as if we were turning and feeding a product on a to-do list. We wondered if the care we performed for him meant anything. We have cared for comatose patients before, but they often had families that we were able to connect to, which remotely connected us to the patient. When family was present we provided the physical care to the patient and the emotional care to the family; thus connecting the two life-forces of our nursing roles. Even when our comatose patients had no family, we knew that they heard and possibly understood us. However, Mr. Comatose had been a vegetable for years, and was mentally ill prior to his vegetative state, so and we weren’t sure how much he had ever heard or even understood. We often wondered; did he feel pain? Was there anything more than a body? Did his heart feel our touches of care? Did our dedication and devotion to his needs just bounce off his rubbery skin? Did we manage to evoke some semblance of life from his rubbery body, or reach some sort of soul that was perhaps hiding in this stationary statue of skin, bones and IV tubing?
The group of us nurses made conscious efforts to treat Mr. Comatose as a human being despite how our minds wondered about the perplexity of his existence, and questioned the mystery life that existed beyond his swollen skin and beating heart. When we would get into his room to change or turn him, we would chatter about in our daily banter. We would occasionally include Mr. Comatose, even ask for his silent opinion at times. We told about our dinner plans, our aches and pains, and we would tell him about the vacations we were looking forward to. Sometimes we would complain to him about our heavy workload and update him on the hours left to our shift. We would go and wish him good night before we left, and we would greet him in morning. He soon became some sort of fascinating presence on our unit in an unbeknownst way. He was somewhat an object of our fascination. His silence spoke comfort during rough days, his silence helped decide where to go on our next vacation or even which nurse he preferred to turn and clean him next.
One morning we received the news, Mr. Comatose was medically stable and would be returning to his nursing home. We shared this new with him eagerly, and as expected he responded with his now very familiar tone of silence.
The hours of the day floated by as we got busy with our other patients. We were startled from our work tasks with the sounds of incessant cursing emanating from one of the patient rooms; **** you, **** you. We thought an intruder or a disruptive family member was on the unit and we were about to call security. As we searched for the intruder, we traced the cursing to Mr. Comatose's room.
Indeed, he was a living being.
It was his last day in the hospital, and those were the only sounds we ever heard from him.
Somewhere inside our large and swollen sleeping beauty was a soul crying out. That day the soul that absorbed our nurse banter and our gentle care when rolling and cleaning him, broke out of its silence in a thankful curse. His mouth broke out in a passionate **** you. This time we answered him back with a silent, gentle caress on his shoulder. He quieted down.
Our touch had silenced him.
Perhaps that day we had reached beyond a being with rubbery, swollen skin sheltering a beating heart.
Perhaps that day we had touched a soul.
About dpgRN, BSN, MSN, RN
Devorah Goldberg, BS, RN, is a bedside nurse on a general medical-surgical unit . Ms. Goldberg is a graduate student in the Adult Nurse Practitioner program at Hunter-Bellevue College of Nursing and received her baccalaureate degree in nursing from Adelphi University in 2013. Devorah has been blogging about some of her nursing adventures since she began her career in 2013. http://strivingnovice.blogspot.com/
Joined: May '14; Posts: 13; Likes: 89Mar 19, '16We touch more souls most days than most people do in a lifetime!
Some we know about and experience first hand.
And that's what makes my job worth going to every day.
It's the little things.
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