The Exceptional Exceptions

I am a very self-reliant (read: stubborn) person. I don’t like being a burden upon others or being waited on…nor do I like being subjected to others way of doing things that may not fall in alignment with what I think are in my best interests, so it was a hard pill to swallow laying flat on my back in the ICU, being kept alive by various machines, fading in and out of a state of half-consciousness, and always at the mercy of the changing shifts of nurses rotating throughout the day.

After a few days in the ICU I started to get a general sense of the routine and what to expect. Vitals checked. A small rotation to keep from getting bedsores. Fluids replaced or replenished. Blood drawn from the port sewn into my clavicle. It became less frightening as the routine repeated itself, and I was left only with the concern of the type of nurse I would have on each rotation.

Sometimes I woke to a brand new nurse, not even aware a change had been made, while other times I was offered a polite goodbye and a proper changing of the guard. My first reaction during these exchanges was to always pass judgement. Notch it up to a survival mechanism, but it never took me that long to watch the new nurse go about their business and ascertain what sort of personality I would be dealing with for the next day or so. And for as many nurses that rotated through my room, there were an equal amount of differing personalities that would either put me at ease or cause me to stand at attention.

There was the almost robotic nurse who said very little, going about her business as if on auto-pilot, checking vitals, replacing fluids and offering little in the way of conversation until her shift with me ended and she cheerfully said her goodbyes. There were the younger nurses, quite apt in their abilities, but delivered with a much greater sense of compassion and care than the rest, most likely not hardened by the repetitive experiences that must drag the most well-meaning nurses into states of frustration and hopelessness. There were the veteran nurses, older and straight to the point, who checked vitals and prodded body parts with a more forceful hand, quite uncaring or unaware that the catheter tube could use a slightly gentler hand in repositioning. There were the newest nurses, still sheltered under the wings of the teaching nurse, some of which who followed orders and others who wanted to know more than they did and couldn’t bring themselves to swallow their pride and just do the job right, making my own time during their shift quite stressful (there is obviously more to that story, but I will leave it at that).

And then there were the exceptions. The exceptional exceptions.

There were two nurses, specifically, who took care of me with an attention that made me feel downright special, as if they truly understood the physical trauma I had just experienced and could respond appropriately to every pain and discomfort I was feeling. I regret to say, however, that the first of these nurses took care of me when I was much deeper down the well of a morphine-induced haze and so the intricacies of her attention have gone missing in my memory, and I can only rely on both the approval expressed by my parents as a testament to her abilities and her decision to come back in and visit on her day off to check in on me and have a brief discussion.

As to the second nurse, I was enough out of the morphine cloud (and well on my way to a depressive clarity) that I remembered her care and attention with great detail. To be honest, I don’t know why she offered so much care and understanding towards me and my lethargic state, or even more so, I don’t know HOW she could offer so much. This may very well be her nature, which led her into nursing in the first place, not out of financial necessity or a lack of employment options, but rather because it aptly suits her ability to care for the sick and wounded. Someone as cynical and skeptical as me may never understand such an inherent goodness, but for my sake, I’m glad she has it.

Needless to say, she took care of me with a gentleness and attention that put me at complete ease in a state of great tension. She was careful in positioning me on the bed, gentle in repositioning the countless tubes coming from my body, described in detail everything she was going to do before even doing it (you have no idea how comforting this is to a patient), knew various little tricks to relieve my pain and discomfort, didn’t push me past my abilities if it was obvious that I couldn’t do what was asked, and most importantly, talked to me. But she didn’t talk to me about trivial things like “my tats” (oh god, next time I go into the hospital I’m covering up my “tats” to avoid all the trite and repetitive conversation). We talked about my son, my ideas, my running, etc. And she basically got to understand a little more of the person I was.

It may sound somewhat trite, but in having these conversations with me she was able to put me at great ease and lend me a sense of comfort I hadn’t felt since arriving at the hospital. All this really came into play when it was time to engage in the less pleasant procedures related to the post-surgery experience. Whether she was washing me from head to toe with a wet washcloth, removing my catheter, taking tubes from my body in which I didn’t even know there were tubes, and so on, having that sense of trust and care made all the difference in the experience feeling invasive and embarrassing or comforting and healing.

I can’t stress enough how comforting it was to have a nurse that cared about my predicament and made the stresses of an ICU stay as minimal as possible. I only wished she could have been assigned to me during my entire stay at the hospital.

I am in awe of the jobs nurses do. They have to develop an extensive medical knowledge, handle the incredible stresses of unruly patients and people in distress, and yet still manage to retain a sense of care and compassion among it all. I know I’M not the person for that job, but again, I’m grateful that there are those that ARE. I will be (hopefully) having to enter back into the hospital again for this experience in a couple months and I hope I have another group of nurses as compassionate and caring as the previous group.

To all the nurses that took care of me and my friends who have entered that field..thank you.

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2 responses to “The Exceptional Exceptions

  1. Wow Scott, all I can say is thanks for sharing your experience. What a valuable gift. David

    • Hey Scott, the above comment was regarding your beautiful discussion of the challenge it is to face our imperminance, our death, that is hiding behind our schedules, dreams and plans. But the above discussion is appreciated also. Being a firefighter and on a regular basis caring for the sick, with a miriad of personalities and demeanors that often don’t elicit “wanting” to be caring, it is a very valuable reminder to read about how you experienced the “care” you were given by those for whom it is a job. I will carry your thoughts with me at work as a reminder of the humanity behind the illness.

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