Those Kind of Tears That Make Your Throat Burn
Sometimes, you're not just caring for your patient. You're caring for their loved one. The person who has to make all of those terrible decisions. The one who has to be strong when all they have to give is gone. You're their nurse too. And sometimes they need you much, much more than your patient does.
It was a normal shift. I started out with the typical two patients. One stable and one not so much.
My not-so-stable patient was a 50-something guy with a wife and 4 kids. He had a massive ischemic stroke from an unknown origin last night. He was intubated and his neuro exam was so poor that he didn't even need to be sedated. He only had minimal reflexes. His wife sat at his bedside, utterly broken. She looked to me for any glimmer of hope and I had none to give her.
My second neuro check was worse than my first. I tried to have my nursey poker face on, but she saw right through it. I immediately called the doctor. An emergency craniotomy for decompression and bone flap removal was in our very near future.
When the doctor quickly came by to tell her what needed to happen or he would become brain dead soon, she lost what little grip she had on her sanity. She became inconsolable and walked away because she just couldn't take it anymore.
I asked my charge to watch my patient while I looked for her. I found her huddled on the floor in the bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably.
I wanted to sit next to her and console her for a while, but time was a factor. We were getting ready to hit the OR in a matter of minutes. I had to get her to pull it together and FAST.
First, I hugged her while she sobbed snot onto my for about two minutes. I told her I was so, so sorry while she cried. I then looked her in her eyes and said, "Hey, you can do this. He needs you right now. He needs you to be strong for him right now. You can do this. And I will be there with you the entire time."
With tears in her eyes, she said, "okay".
"This is what we are going to do, okay?" I said.
"I'm going to walk with you back to the unit. We're going to talk to the anesthesiologist and answer some important questions. We're going to call your son and let him know he's going to surgery now and that everyone needs to get here and meet you in the waiting room. I'm going to pack him up and we're going to take him down stairs. All three of us will ride down the elevator to the OR together. You'll give him some good smooches and I'll take him back. I'll be there with you every step of the way."
She pulled it together. She blew her nose one more time, dried her eyes, and held her head high. "Okay, let's go," she said, as we walked out of the bathroom.
She answered the anesthesiologist's questions and we started packing him up. I could tell it was taking every ounce of strength she had not to hop in that bed with him.
As we were making our turn to the OR, I told her to get some smooches in. I tried with all I had in me not to cry as I watched her sob into his shoulder and smear tears all over his cheek.
He came back to my unit after surgery and didn't look so great.
By the end of the shift, I was taking him to hospice.
After I extubated him and gave report to the hospice nurse taking over, she sobbed as she said goodbye to me. I wanted to get out of there before he died because after the last 12 hours, I don't think I could have taken that and still gone back to the unit to take care of my other patient.
I'll never forget her. I'll never forget the strength she had summoned from deep inside of her to get herself out of that bathroom. That kind of strength she had to find underneath those tears she was crying; the kind of tears that make your throat burn. I pray that if I'm in that situation, I'll be able to find it. I think that I could because she showed me it was possible.
And as I said my goodbye to her and told her I was praying for her, my phone in my pocket buzzed.
After I walked out of the room, I checked it and saw that I got a text from my coworker.
"You're up for the next admission and report is on the phone."Last edit by Joe V on Sep 1, '18
Bedside critical care nurse, first-time adult, author of the nursing blog, nurseeyeroll.com, and expert Pinterest-recipe ruiner.
Joined: Mar '14; Posts: 23; Likes: 217
Specialty: critical care, neuroApr 30, '14Occupation: Utilization Review, prior Intake Mgr Home Care Specialty: 40 year(s) of experience in Home Care, Vents, Telemetry, Home infusion ; From: PA, US ; Joined: Oct '00; Posts: 27,571; Likes: 13,777Thank YOU for being there recognizing the wife's needs along with the patients.
Boohoo to the staff that didn't allow you time to decompress. Thanks for sharing with us.Apr 30, '14From: CA, US ; Joined: May '13; Posts: 36; Likes: 36Thank you...your post took me back to a difficult time in my own life that was similar to that woman's. I remember a nurse hugging and crying with me. Nurses like you and that nurse back then are the reason I am becoming a nurse...all I can say is thank you.May 1, '14Joined: Aug '05; Posts: 1,567; Likes: 2,571And people wonder why Nurses feel they deserve the compensation they get. Putting out hearts out there day-after-day. Providing primary care to the patient and family, coordinating ALL the other departments, making sure everyone is doing thier job as well as doing our own. I still get comments like " I don't know why you nurses think you need so much staff; You just do what the doctor tells you to do". And this was from a Nurse Supervisor. I know we are expensive, but I don't know a lot of jobs where no matter how much you do, or how well you do it, there is always a little more you could be doing, and there is always someone there to point that out. What you described is what nurses face as part of thier job every day. No wonder the burn out rate in nursing has got to be similar to Bomb Disposal Experts.May 1, '14Joined: Mar '13; Posts: 56; Likes: 65Beautiful post. What a difference you made to her, she will never forget you. When my father was in neuro ICU after a pulmonary embolism amd prolonged CPR that "brought him back", we were all around him and the chaplain came in to speak with us and say a prayer. The neuro ICU nurse stopped in her work to join hands with us and say a prayer. It took only a minute out of her time, but it made a huge difference to us to know that she was a caring person. It doesn't matter if she was religious or not. It was the time and her caring nature that touched us. We will never forget her and that woman will never forget you either.May 1, '14Joined: Aug '05; Posts: 38,991; Likes: 48,064Thank you for sharing. It IS the extra mile we take that make a difference. I have always felt it is the whole family we care for and we we reach that point that the patient is beyond our interventions we have the privilege or touching someones life and affecting it forever.
It is what I love the most.
((HUGS)) now go home and decompress....I like to hug my family and have a bubble bath with my friends. Ben & Jerry....May 2, '14Joined: Apr '12; Posts: 1,050; Likes: 646You did great to help the patient's wife. And thanks for sharing your story.May 2, '14Joined: Oct '04; Posts: 8,702; Likes: 17,867
That is all...the things we do as nurses-priceless.May 2, '14Joined: Aug '09; Posts: 4,689; Likes: 8,665This is why nurses suffer burnout and compassion fatigue and don't bounce back because they have nothing else to give. I hope your managers realize all you do, and 'fill your cup' so you can continue ministering to your patients and family.May 2, '14Joined: May '13; Posts: 124; Likes: 667What a beautiful story, I’m just a patient but nurses like you are why I respect and admire nurses as much as I do, many of you have big hearts, and are so humble about what you do. Be sure to take some time to spoil yourself. Thanks for doing what you do!May 2, '14Joined: May '14; Posts: 15; Likes: 18This is an incredible story. I hope to have your strength as a nurse one day. Thank you for sharing.May 4, '14Occupation: RN Specialty: neuro/ortho med surge 4 ; From: US ; Joined: Aug '07; Posts: 723; Likes: 1,037Beautiful story. I always cry when I read these stories. It helps to remember why we do what we do.May 6, '14Joined: Jul '10; Posts: 508; Likes: 559I have to ask this question - why are we as nurses so bad at allowing each other time out to decompress at times like this?
Why is it always expected that we just move on to the next patient without any need to take a breath?
I'm thankful that my team is good at this, if one of us says we need five minutes and please cover, then that is what happens.
But I'm thinking that is rare, we've been a team a long time and I don't think other nurses always get that space and respect for their emotions.