Just some thoughts on one of my hardest days and how life in the ER changes you.
So one year, I ruined Thanksgiving. Not on purpose. It's just that I worked Thanksgiving Eve, which means my work shift rolled into Thanksgiving day. And there we are at the end of our shift, smiling, Snapchatting turkey messages, talking about how little sleep we were going to get because of all the being thankful celebrations. But you know what happened at 0530???? A child came in lifeless, coding. And when I say child, I mean an infant. And like always, we spring into action methodically and critically thinking through what needs to happen. We need IV access. What medication and how much are we giving? Where do they fall on the Braslow tape? How long has it been since mom last saw the baby ok? What's the history? We work and work. And we work some more. The doctor asks if anyone else has any ideas.
He calls mom in. Shows her that we've tried. We've tried everything. We can keep trying but really, our effort is futile.
Then that's it... time of death is called.
I cannot even begin to put into words what a mother who just lost her infant child sounds like. But I can't let that sound penetrate my brain... not yet. I have to be there for mom. I have to chart. I have to fill out the death packet. Call the Medical Examiner. Ask mom to pick a funeral home from the list I have to provide. I have to check on my other patients and make sure nothing is left undone. I have to give report to the oncoming day shift nurse on my other patients.
I have to do my job.
I don't even make it to my car before I lose it. My first pediatric code. I promise you, it's far worse than it sounds. But it's Thanksgiving, the only day I have off with my family. I need to get it together before I walk in the house. I'm supposed to be happy. Thankful. And I am. Truly. But I'm not present today. I'm not cheerful. I'm just there...
Death and destruction is something I see and experience nearly every day. Every. Single. Day. A Level 1 trauma facility, in a big metropolitan area. We see it all.
Destruction and death. Every. Single. Day.
So before you judge me or label me as callous and salty, I want you to think about the things these eyes have seen, what these ears have heard, what these hands have felt, and oh man, what this nose has smelled.
Nobody should have to see these things. But we do. And we cope the only way we know how. We laugh at inappropriate things or even inappropriate times. I know what we sometimes sounds like. Hell, I'll reflect on the things that come out of my mouth and be taken aback by how dark my mind is now.
Please do not think I do not care. I do. But if I let go for the young woman who just died after a horrific car accident, I cannot do my job to take care of the guy who just came in with chest pain and might be having a heart attack.
Or this baby, on Thanksgiving Day, who comes in at the end of my shift and needs me to be completely present to critically think my way through helping them.
I give a part of myself to each person who comes in. And the things these eyes have seen, what these ears have heard, what these hands have felt, and oh man, what this nose has smelled. They change you.
They have made me what I am....
So please, don't judge me. I know what I sound like. I know sometimes the things that come out of my mouth and the things that we joke about are beyond messed up....
But if we don't laugh through the horror, we'll never make it.
Jun 15Beautiful. It made me think, realize, that probably every human being is "damaged goods" in some way. Maybe we can cut each other some slack.
Yeah, right away I can think of a few people I have no intention of giving any slack to .Jun 15It may be that I have not seen as much death & destruction as you have, but there was a time when I could read the obits - every day - and see someone who had been a patient of mine. I've seen children die, helped grieving families, and then had to quickly move on to my other patients. I'm no different from so many other nurses.
But I am not damaged goods.
Yes, we may use dark humor with other nurses. That is a coping mechanism. Humor keeps us sane. We understand each other in ways that the average person may not understand. And that's OK.
I am not the same person that I was 30 years ago. The things I've seen, and heard, and done ... I've changed with the years. We all change, and grow.
If you consider yourself to be damaged, perhaps you should consider counseling? It sounds to me like you are not happy with the changes you see in yourself.Last edit by Kitiger on Jun 15 : Reason: grammarJun 15Your dark, impressionistic picture of the pain in ER life and death is beautifully done. Many will feel your emotion; only those who work there will understand it. I won't judge you or anyone who serves and survives in the ER environment. If you can stay focused and get the job done, you deserve your coping mechanisms, dark humor, or whatever works for you. Dancing, traveling, and time at the beach dissolve my toxic residual, replacing it with enough energy for another round of chaos in a place where the pain and rewards are equally intense.Jun 16Your work is heart wrenching and I imagine that you have a beautiful strong patched up heart. Thank you for sharing a piece of it.Jun 16I worked in hospice for a little over a year. The two most devastating deaths were the 2 year old and the 46 year old (my mother's age.) I thought about what was and what could have been. By this point, I had tons of experience with death and dying, yet these two drove me to feel intensely.
We are all damaged goods. All of us.Jun 16Your heart wrenching story was beautifully done. We immerse ourselves in our work and sometimes I wonder, how I appear to act with others in normal situations? Am I really there for my family & friends or am I distant and seemingly aloof? Your post tugged at my heart. And really!, on another note...football professionals make millions and want more, but they couldn't hold a candle to the work you (or any of us) do! Nurses, Police, Paramedics,and the Military deserve the millions and let's give less to the sports teams. After all, they are purely entertainment.
Thank you for sharing your story! Some of our work leaves unalterable imprints in our mind.Jun 16I loved and appreciated your story. I can relate to a story very similar to yours and had an ending just as sad. Watching each family member enter that room and hear each person's reaction was heart wrenching. Thank you for sharing. It is nice to know my response was normal.Jun 16Thank you OP for posting this story. As a hospice RN, I've seen death far more than when I worked on a floor where most patients were stable or otherwise ended up in the ICU and because of HIPAA never found out if they made it or not. I'm not sure how I would feel about a pediatric patient passing under my care; it's hard enough when they are a few years younger than me or around my age.Jun 16This is probably a large part of the reason we nurses seem to gravitate towards other nurses or professionals in similar fields when we socialize off the clock. Literally nobody else can feel that particular stress of working with the dead and dying or just trying to join the ranks of the dead and dying every darn day. If any "normal" person overhears our off the clock conversations we would sound like horrible people instead of the compassionate people we truly are.
There are days if we don't make totally inappropriate jokes about the crap we've just dealt with we might just fall apart ourselves. Fortunately the truly disastrous doesn't happen too often in my area of specialty but there are still shifts the best thing we can do to cope is all go out for a drink and complain about our crazy day. Our families and non health care friends don't get it, not really.Last edit by kbrn2002 on Jun 16 : Reason: AN won't let me use the B word, lol!Jun 16Wow! That story stopped me in my tracks. Thank you for showing your vulnerability as well as your hardened shell.Jun 16Lex,RN.
Take a deep breath!!! First off I hear ya!.... Crystal!
You are as accurate as accurate can be. Trust. We all feel this.. I can sense the hurried tone in your writing and that is in exact how we operate. You, sound like me, sounding like all of us. Nursing is not a joke.
But, you're writing this brings something to the forefront of my mind. Are we functioning PTSD people??.. Will this haunt us later.. Idk.
I know for me, I get through the shifts one day at a time. If theyre all clustered together fine. Hopefully my friends shifts will be too and we can meet up and go out and heal each other over food and drinks. If weeks go by and I can't see my friends, I feel more like you do writing this...
Either way, you have to find a way to see it, get real with it, curse if you have to, and move on. Really move on. .. Everytime you say wow, I cannot believe this.. You will see much worse., trust me.. It comes with the job. Again, you have to move on and make peace with it. Remember, Death is as certain as life for all of us..
Dont think of yourself as Damaged Goods, try your best to Enjoy your life!!
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