Working during the holidays

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    The holiday season is chock full of family traditions, gatherings, laughter and warmth. As nurses, we are oftentimes pulled away from family gatherings to care for our patients. When this occurs, we feel a bit sad, and count the minutes until we are reunited with our families. The following article reminds us of our blessings, precious time spent with those we love, and focuses on the things we are thankful for.

    The music was piping through the speakers, the turkey was in the oven, and my mother-in-law and I were sharing laughter and love while cooking dinner together for Thanksgiving. My husband was in the living room watching football (I love him for being a fan!), and called me into the room to watch and excerpt on ESPN.

    Chris Henry, a wide receiver for the Bengals had passed away last year after suffering injuries in an MVA. Because his mother decided to donate his organs, several people received a new lease on life. My husband knew that I would find this story interesting because we had JUST had a conversation the day before regarding the increased incidence of trauma and transplants in the holiday season. Misty eyed and quite humbled, I want to share a Thanksgiving experience with you.

    I drew the short stick and had to work in the OR one Thanksgiving. Although I was disappointed that I would not be having dinner with my husband and our friends, I went in knowing that we would only be doing emergency cases. I expected a relatively light working day filled with organizing, straightening, cleaning, etc. How wrong I was.

    Within minutes of clocking in, our staff got a 'black tag' alert from the ER. They received a very young patient with a self inflicted GSW to the head. The patient was kept on a vent until the family was informed. The family consented to organ donation. With a heaviness in my heart that I cannot begin to verbalize, I scrubbed in and set the room up for an organ harvest.

    I spent 15 grueling hours assisting in meticulous organ recovery. When we were done, I sent the staff out of the room. I sat beside the OR bed and looked at this poor young man, his head swathed in Kerlix and lines coming out of every orifice. I picked up his lifeless hand and held it in mine. I wondered what would lead a thriving young man to take the route of suicide. I was immediately aware that this young man would not be spending Thanksgiving with his family ever again, that his family would forever hold Thanksgiving with little joy for years to come. I shed several tears during this time...for him, for his family, for the horrid events that lead to him choosing to shut the door to life.

    When I felt more composed, I walked out of the room, washed my face and tried to focus on the next task at hand. I walked to the front desk to receive my next assignment and was caught off guard by the raucous laughter and banter I was hearing in the pre-op holding room. It sounded like a party was going on in pre-op, so I went to take a gander.

    Several men in full military garb were standing around a slight young man lying on a stretcher. The man on the stretcher was a soldier that had been on the transplant list for quite some time after contracting Hep C from a needle stick while attending to a patient en route from the field to a military hospital overseas. The family was so excited because this brave man would be getting the life saving liver that I just helped to harvest. I couldn't help but get misty again. One life has ended and another was beginning.

    I went home EXHAUSTED. Thankfully, I live close to the hospital and didn't have far to drive. My dear husband had dinner re-heated for me, but I could not eat. My friends saw the tired look on my face and knew that I needed space. I went outside to clear my mind and rid myself of the sadness I was holding in my heart. A few minutes later, I heard the helicopter buzz over my house that carried my patient's heart, lungs and kidneys to another location. Smiling, I understood in that quiet moment that so many patients and their families would be experiencing the very same scenario that I witnessed in pre-op. I received a letter a few weeks later informing me that another solider received a kidney, a pediatric patient received both the heart and lungs, and a dialysis patient got the other kidney.

    I spent that Thanksgiving with a very heavy heart, but learned a very valuable lesson: to GIVE is precious. To be thankful is humbling. I witnessed both that day, and I will forever be honored to be a part of that.
    Last edit by tnbutterfly on Jan 11, '15
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    About canesdukegirl, BSN

    Trauma surgical nurse

    Joined: Jul '10; Posts: 2,897; Likes: 7,168
    OR nursing; from US
    Specialty: 14 year(s) of experience in Trauma Surgery, Nursing Management

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  3. by   RN58186
    I work in an outpatient transplant clinic and one of my favourite things to do is to pass along the thank you letters from my patients to donor families. Thanks for sharing!