What you didn't know

I hardly ever write about work but this stayed with me and demanded to be given flight. I had left the ICU to take a break from this sort of thing. But you really can't hide. Nurses Announcements Archive Article


What you didn't know

You knew I was late at bringing you the ice water you had asked for. I know you knew this because the nurse who relieved me that day told me about how you complained for quite some time about it. How you couldn't believe I couldn't keep up with the two patients I had in the CDU. You knew you didn't want to be in the hospital on Christmas Eve. You knew you had more important things to be doing. You knew you had family waiting for you to get home. But here are a few things you didn't know.

You didn't know that my other patient, just across the hall from you, a 23 year old daughter of a loving family, mother of a 3 year old boy, had just gone from bad to very much worse. You didn't know how I kept my voice calm in the room as I told my aide to call for the doctor even though my internal voice was screeching. You didn't know how many times I kept telling myself this wasn't happening. I had taken a job away from my usual ICU so this wouldn't happen. You didn't know, as I did, that her heart was going to fail her three seconds before she did. You didn't know the fear in her mother's eyes as I caught her gaze as I was compressing her daughter's chest. You didn't know about the controlled chaos that the code team always brings with it, the intubation, the bagging, the endless rounds of code drugs. You didn't know the word I uttered when the doctor finally gave up, nor the hatred with which it was uttered.

You didn't know how I begged him for one more minute even though I knew it would make no difference. You didn't know I was left alone in the room to clean up the aftermath, to make a very unnatural scene look somewhat natural for the family when they came back in. You didn't know that while I was getting that ice water that you received late I was thinking about what I could have possibly missed that would have made a difference. You didn't know that by the time I gave you that ice water I was blaming myself. You didn't know that after the family left I sat by her and told her how sorry I was that I failed. You didn't know how incredibly heavy her body was as I assisted the funeral home worker transfer it from my bed to his stretcher.

You didn't know that on that Christmas morning I wouldn't be thinking of my son and his third Christmas, but of another 3 year old boy instead, a boy who would forever remember Christmas not as a time of joy, but instead as the day he lost his mother. You didn't know that a part of me will always remember it that way as well.

You didn't know any of these things because I didn't let you see them as I gave you that ice water, late as it was. I simply apologized and asked if there was anything else I could do for you. The fact that you didn't know any of those things is a source of pride to me. It proves that I can go about my duties with a calm demeanor, regardless of what calamity may have happened. That fact says something about me, but as I get older I'm not sure it says anything positive. In fact, it seems to point to something very tiring indeed.

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tnbutterfly - Mary, BSN

91 Articles; 5,921 Posts

Specializes in Peds, Med-Surg, Disaster Nsg, Parish Nsg.

What a powerful story! Thanks for sharing.


20,964 Posts

Specializes in Specializes in L/D, newborn, GYN, LTC, Dialysis.



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Thank you for sharing and reminding us all that nursing is an art AND a science.

Specializes in CEN.

I am so sorry. It is always hard to lose a patient but when you have that particular combination of a paramount tragedy and an ungrateful, irritated patient it makes the job exhausting. You have perfectly outlined the angst that nurses everywhere will unfortunately experience during their careers.


1,224 Posts

Specializes in Medical-Surgical/Float Pool/Stepdown.

Your story (and those of many others...some of them my own unfortunately) should be laid out on the first page of every press ganey survey in existence. I hope you find peace among the inevitable and unforgettable.

Specializes in ER, ICU/CCU, Open Heart OR Recovery, Etc.

This ^^^^^^^^^^^^^


389 Posts

Specializes in ICU, trauma.

Sadly i have experiences like this often. Just the other day i had a very sick patient on the vent, and another patient who i just weened off a drip ready to go to a different floor. The family had decided to withdrawal care on patient 1. While patient 2 is threatening to leave AMA because he waited 5 minutes to go to the bathroom. This is what's wrong with health care.


4 Posts

What a great story......thanks for sharing.....I know it's hard to separate these two emotions but I hope you're able to find peace.


9 Posts

Excellent!! And to say it should be on the first Press Ganey is soon true!!


412 Posts

Very brave! If they know what nurses go through, hmm...... thanks for sharing

Wow. Great job. This is the kind of stories this site is for. The only safe place to vent about our profession. Sounds like you are an awesome nurse. Don't ever change. The world will never know but The Powers that be does and that's all that matters.

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