March 27, 2018

What I've Learned From My Patients


I've been a nurse for six years and some change. I've worked in the private and government sector, and have been a nurse in medical-surgical and critical care settings. I've met wives, nephews, step-fathers and grandmothers, each one allowing me to be apart of their lives for a brief moment in time. I've cared for many people in Central Florida, and I love my community. Working in healthcare has taught me many things. I wanted to take the time to share a few moments with you. In turn, I hope you comment or write a post remembering all the patients who have impacted your life.

1. The Messiness 

I've been in graduate school for forever and day. Working full-time and going to school full-time has its stressful moments. One patient and I bonded over my back-to-back shifts, and she gave me some advice. She said...

"You don't have to have it all together. You don't have to know what you want. You're allowed to second guess yourself and be in the in-between space. And even with all that, you should love yourself. Stop reaching for perfection. You won't get it, and you will die trying. Enjoy your family, enjoy life's messiness. Trust me. When you become ill these will be the moments that put a smile on your face." 

As a wife and mother, I admit there are times when school came first. I'd miss Rocco (my son) doing something new or miss date night with my husband. There were moments I felt like I was a lousy wife and mother. I was being pulled in five different directions, and certain decisions had to be made. Do I stay home and complete my exam or do I drop Rocco off at therapy? Do I drive two-hours and go to clinical or have a lunch date with my husband? It was beyond overwhelming. This fantastic woman gave me advice, and it changed my entire perspective on things. Yeah, I'm gonna miss some things when I have varying priorities. In order to meet these expectations, I have to move a few things around and work within the chaos. I can't do it all. There isn't a perfect mommy's club or secret wife society out there judging my every move. And if there is, I'm assuming they don't like me. Listen, I'm just a girl, doing the best I can to juggle all these roles (both personally and professionally) and it's okay if I need to ask for help or rest.

Don't allow your roles to take over your life. You decided to do this, now find a way to make it work. It's doable, you just need to be creative. Don't get lost in the semantics. Take it one day at a time, stay organized, and understand you are doing your best. And be proud you want more and are working towards a goal. Don't allow folks to belittle your goals or ambitions. It's okay to want more, that doesn't make you a bad person.

2. The Control 

A few months ago, a patient arrived at our unit with an endotracheal tube in place and secured. Fifteen minutes after arrival, he woke, became agitated, and immediately attempted to self-extubate. I tried to stop him and called for help, or screamed for it rather. At some point, five nurses were trying to stop him. We were holding his arms and legs down (he was also kicking), attempting to restrain him from hurting himself. Yet, he did exactly what he wanted (the guy was scary strong). He ripped that tube right out of his mouth and then said in a raspy voice...

"I'm sorry, but I'm going to do what I want. I don't want this!" 

I was so frustrated with him that I had to excuse myself and his original nurse took over care. Who does that? Who would purposely cause themselves harm even after being educated what the ramifications would be? And that's when I realized something. You can't control people's response. You can educate someone until you're blue in the face, but it will always be their decision in the end. I am a nurse. I provide care. But if someone doesn't want it, and is of sound mind and body, he or she has the right to refuse it. I can be mad at the choice they have made, but in the end, it's their life. In the land of free will, this is something I had to come to terms with.

I have ADHD and self-diagnosed OCD. I'm an odd bird. I'm one of those nurses that must have a clean and organized patient's room with everything in its place. Yes, the gloves even have to go from small to large in a certain way. I'm hyper-organized, and I expect a certain level of organization from others. Would it surprise you if I told you that I get upset when my organizational expectations aren't met by others? Yeah, thought so. Every time I get mad at someone's inability to meet my standards, I remind myself that I am in charge of my own actions. I only control my performance. I let go and understand my limitations... oh, it feels good. There is something freeing about understanding you can't control every aspect of your life. Some things, some people are just what and who they are.

We are responsible for ourselves. It's their choice to make, and they will incur the consequences. In a world filled with political turmoil and a changing climate, it's easy to get emotional about someone doing something you deem "stupid." But remember, they will feel the ramifications of their choices. You aren't their parent. You are a nurse. Don't place an unneeded burden on yourself if someone doesn't want your help or skills. Understand their choice and move on to others who want and seek your assistance. Let go and accept your inability to control things. 

3. The Struggle 

I had a patient who was having her 5th miscarriage. She was far along and was devastated. I went in for my initial assessment and saw her crying. I tried to exit quickly, but she stopped me and told me...

"I'm always going to cry when this happens. Don't stop doing your job. I will overcome this. But right now, it just sucks. I'm in this moment, feeling it. All of it. It will pass, but I'm in it right now. The right now is painful, and that's okay." 

My husband and I tried to conceive for many years. Waiting each month and being disappointed was gut-wrenching. The wanting and denial was something I will never forget. But look at us now! We have Rocco (our son), and he is everything we wanted. When I was in my post-miscarriage haze, I couldn't have imagined we would be here. I remember a few days after my miscarriage, my husband tried to lift my spirits by taking me out for lunch. We went to Outback Steakhouse. After we ordered our food, a family with three children sat behind us. I heard the kids giggling and laughing, and it broke my heart. My husband had to walk me to the car, and I didn't leave our apartment for a week. I even had to call out of work and explain things. Is depression an excuse to miss work? I don't know, but I couldn't physically care for someone in that state. I miscarried while working, so my job wasn't a place I really wanted to be. I missed three days of work. That equals three separate calls. Each call was brutal. Explaining my emotional instability and weakness to three different people. Lord, it was intense. But now, we're on the other side. Those experiences taught me patience and to appreciate the moments I have with my son, even when he's kicking and screaming because he is upset. I'm a mother, and this is what I wanted. I'm basking in it, and I freaking love it.

The patient and I ended up talking about all the things we couldn't talk about with our friends (the wanting, the disappointment, the jealousy when someone else gets pregnant). How we felt we were holding our husbands back from being fathers... all the good stuff. We ended up talking for a solid hour about our miscarriage experiences, and before I left that shift, she gave me some solid advice. "The good things in life are hard, exhausting and even annoying but oh so worth it." And she was right. I wouldn't have ever appreciated my health and family this much if we wouldn't have been through what we have.

Don't allow adversity to stop you from doing something. The struggle is the best part. When you look back on your life, it's the hard times that made you who you are. Those events help you to value your life and family. When you're in them, you only see the sorrow and the pain. But looking back, they form who we are and how you view the world.