Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Heroic Measures

I'm reading The Geography of Bliss, a nonfiction account of a curious and somewhat discontented journalist who decides to hunt out who the most happy people are and why. On his search, he visits Bhutan and meets a man who runs the country's think tank, appropriately named Karma. Karma advises the author, "You need to think about death for five minutes every day. It will cure you, sanitize you....It is this thing, this fear of death, this fear of dying before we have accomplished what we want or seen our children grow. This is what is troubling you....Rich people in the West, they have not touched dead bodies, fresh wounds, rotten things. This is a problem. This is the human condition. We have to be ready for the moment we cease to exist."

But I touch dead bodies, handle fresh wounds (both physical and mental), and rotten things. I, and my fellow emergency department coworkers bear the brunt and weight of the rancid realities of life and death and what happens in between. I'm not sure that it's made me happier.

It makes me want to tell someone that the next time they find themselves in an ER with their 86 year old grandpa saying, "Do whatever it takes to save him," don't think you're a hero. "Heroic measures" mostly mean the opposite--fear-driven, ignorant, selfish, torturous measures. It often takes more courage to decide to let someone die than to tell those of us to be the "heroes" who pound on a chest, hear and feel the sharp yet dull crunch of ribs under our hands, smell and clean the bloody stool, watch and suction as a physician moves a cold metal blade down an airway, insert large tubes to drain urine, gastric contents, or infuse medications. We feel like torturers, roped by your cowardice or inability to face reality into tormenting a person to whom we wish we could give morphine and a less painful, less violent death.

This exposure and participation in the most intimate, gritty, traumatic moments of life and death is a rare thing. A gift? A calling? An identity?

Even at my sister's house, if a nephew gets sick, it's me that is comfortable standing with him over the toilet. Someone on a plane or bus that needs help? I move forward. A little dog, having a seizure? I hold her, stroke her fur, murmur comforting words. I love doing it. I'm glad I've turned into a nurse.

I remember when I was a nurse at the beginning, but was too shy, intimidated, insecure, to say or do what I wanted when someone was dying. Now, almost nine years later, I fight a different set of demons. The demons of anger, apathy, resentment, bitterness, judgment.

Will moving out of the ER fix this burn-out? I don't know. But I'm tired of being an anti-hero. I'd like to be a nurse again.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Where will it send me?

In the year + that has passed since my last entry, I've developed a new fascination. I'm having a difficult time focusing on real life or ordinary details, especially when driving due to my new interest. Everywhere I go, I see them. Sidewalks, grocery stores, malls, and of course, the ER.

I've become obsessed with Hoverounds. Also known as motorized wheelchairs, these modes of transport fill my thoughts. Multiple times, I've come close to crashing my car just because I couldn't take my eyes off one.

They make me smile, laugh, and without fail, start singing the Hoveround theme song in my head. It's played during such quality daytime programming as The Price is Right. If you're not familiar with this jingle, do me (and yourself) a favor and google "Hoveround Song." You won't be disappointed. The main lyrics are: "Hoveround takes me where I wanna go. Where will it send me?" Oh, I, too, have been pondering this question.

It implies that the Hoveround has a mind of its own. Perhaps, if it did such independent thinking and controlling, it would send its occupant.....on a diet. Or to Subway instead of McDonald's. Or the pool or gym instead of Walmart. Unfortunately, the sad (but hysterically entertaining to me) reality is that Hoveround sends people to the Emergency Department.

Since my coworkers know my inward (and often outward) delight in the Hoveround and its rider, I often get to be the nurse when these victims come to the ER. Here's an example:

An enormous man with legs like tree stumps (complete with peeling bark-like skin) whose personal Hoveround was out of batteries decided to borrow his mother-in-law's motorized wheelchair to go to the movies. Unfamiliar with the controls, the man rammed the chair and one of his legs into the theater bathroom doorway, thus carving a deep cut into his massive shin. As he rolled into the ER with his large-ish wife walking (good for her!!!) behind him, she demanded a "large size bed" for him. No kidding, lady. I retrieved the "appropriate size gown" for him, and took him to a room. His wife requested I help lift his morbidly obese legs into the bed. My back started aching just at the sight of them. I asked, "How does he get into bed at home?" The man silently got into the gurney unassisted.

Of course not all Hoveround drivers are created equal. Some completely deserve and need this assistance to be independent. My fascination is with the big people. The ones who demand a cart ride at the airport to their gate, and then get off the cart and slowly amble toward the fast food court. The ones who affix an orange flag to their Hoveround and drive in the actual lane of the road as if they are a real vehicle, puffing away on their oxygen concentrator as they slow traffic that does not dare to honk at the "disabled." The ones whose attached baskets at the grocery store are full of chips, pop, and ice cream.

Of course, I know that these people may be super nice, yadda yadda. And yes, they are still humans. They seem to be attempting to cover the image of God with layers of padding. Maybe it's due to ignorance or laziness or illness or a combination. But for the grace of God, there go I. One day, I was caring for one of these such riders (on the storm of her own obesity), and a coworker whispered in my ear in passing, "Keep running, Jenny." As long as I can, I plan to.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Through the Looking Glass....or Bong

It's been over a year since I posted anything, and not for lack of material. Stories pile themselves in my head, and it's time to type some of them out.

"Laverne" was brought back to my open room, and right from the get-go, a strong crazy vibe was palpable. I always say that there are a few trademarks of the insane:
1. Untamed female facial hair
2. Wearing a puffy coat (especially old-school Seahawks or Raiders) on a hot day
3. Insisting on representing oneself in court
4. Painstakingly reading every word of every document before signing, especially the privacy statements or discharge papers.

Laverne met #1 and #2. Probably #3, too, but I was not privy to that information.

Her chief complaint was that her husband was trying to kill her. She thought he was putting Drano in her cereal in the mornings. "Why not just stop eating food he gives you?" one might ask. And one might ask to no avail. Please see aforementioned list.

I introduced myself as usual, and started asking her why she came in today. "He scratched a death threat in my bong," Laverne answered, with intensity in her eyes.

"What did it say?" I asked.


"Laverne, I'm concerned that you may be thinking things or seeing things that aren't reality."

"Here. Let me show ya." Laverne grabbed her ratty, stained backpack, rummaged through it for a minute, and then sure enough, pulled out her bong. And a magnifying glass.

She said, "Jenny, you look right here, and use the magnifying glass, and tell me what you see."

Peering carefully through the glass, I inspected all aspects of the bong, praying that no one would enter the room during such an investigation.

"Laverne, it doesn't say anything. It's just some random scratches in the glue. There are no letters or words. From your urine, I know that you've had marijuana and meth. I think someone has probably laced one of those drugs with acid or something else that's making you see and think things that aren't real."

"Jenny, thank you for telling me that," she said. She hugged me hard, and then went on to tell me a bit about her life. She lived with constant nausea, for which she smoked pot. Marijuana is cheaper and easier to come by than prescribed anti-nausea medication for many people, so that was her preferred drug.

We talked a little more, and she told me that she knew Jesus died for her, but that she was pretty bad. I told her that's why He died--for bad people like us--so we could be free. She said, "Yes, I know," and gathered up her belongings, and shuffled out the door.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Walking the Line

Today I took care of a patient who used to be an ER nurse. She's married to a man who used to be an ER nurse. After years of diverting and shooting up Dilaudid and other drugs, both she and her husband lost their nursing licenses, their jobs, and their health. She checked in today because she's detoxing off of methadone and alcohol. In order to function, she has to drink alcohol every half hour. Even during the night, she wakes up every 30 minutes to take a drink.

This woman brought her 10 year old son to the ER with her. He sat in the corner and drowned out reality by playing his hand-held video game. She has other children, too.

Her veins are scars, and her limbs are pock-marked with scars from shooting up for so many years. She laughs at everything, but the smile didn't reach her eyes.

She terrified me.

In nursing school, I remember learning about a shocking percentage of nurses that end up abusing drugs and stealing medications from work, or even using at work. It seems like such a huge line to cross. And yet she crossed it.

Because of God's grace, I'm the one wearing scrubs. Hopefully I'll never be the one without a license, detoxing in an ER. But the reality of such things scares me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Opportunities for Regret

During this last work rotation, I met a few people that have not left my mind. I've actually prayed for them each, several times. This is unusual since often, I have forgotten yesterday's work entirely as I rush into today's workload.

The first was Margaret, a woman who had had multiple miscarriages. She was angry, and crying in a wheelchair in the ER waiting room, and I apologized for the wait (about 2 hours) as I rolled her back to one of my rooms. Hallway, actually. As soon as I could, I got her into a room, and heard her story. She was about 10 weeks along, had just stopped taking Prometrium, and had had a sudden onset of bleeding while at work. She was scared, panicked, anxious, and upset. Instead of telling her "we won't really be able to do anything except an ultrasound since you're so early in this pregnancy," I just listened. Blood work was sent off, a pelvic exam was done, and off she went to ultrasound. Her husband waited in the room. Hours later, I saw her leaving, and I asked what had happened. Her entire face was glowing, and the anger and fear had been replaced with gratitude and hope. "The baby is still alive, and that's all I could ask for. Now we'll keep praying." I've been praying, too, Margaret.

Next on the list of patients who made an impression was a young lady, 18, who had just found out she was pregnant. She was sobbing, but for a different reason than Margaret. This patient wanted us to refer her somewhere for an abortion since "I want this out of me." My heart felt heavy. I wished I could somehow say something to give her hope, or help her realize another option, but she was hysterical. I had the social worker go in and talk with her and give her whatever information she wanted. I just pray she'll think about this decision and how it will impact not only the baby's existence, but her own life for years to come.

And finally on the list, a 60-year old man who came to the ER simply because he was afraid of dying. Recently diagnosed with cancer, he'd had a few radiation treatments and thought he was handling everything well. But over the past few days, he'd been overwhelmed with feelings of worry about dying alone from cancer. I asked him if he had any kind of faith in anything. He said, "No. I'm not spiritual at all." I wanted to tell him that yes, he was. And that was why he was worried--because he is a spiritual being and there is a spiritual reality. But it didn't feel like the right time to say that, so the doctor saw the patient, and we referred him to some counseling. Maybe somewhere along the line, after the antidepressants, and the antianxiety meds, and the counseling, God will shine into His life with His truth.

So anyway, I felt like I was of absolutely no help to these three people in the long run. I can only pray that God will help them through other people they meet further along in their journeys. And this makes me wonder if the ER is really where I should be. But it's where I am, so there you have it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Although I started this blog with the intention of MUCH more frequent postings, it's turned out that I'm not a diligent blogger. Big surprise. It's just an electronic version of my pile of half -empty journals that intermittently chronicle three decades of life.

Part of it is that I don't want to be a chronic whiner. Especially about work, which is so difficult even with a positive attitude. I'm also unsure at this point what I really want to share publicly about my life.

Another aspect is the fake Hollywoodish stuff where Meg Ryan sends out her emails "into the void" or Julie writes to the scores of "servantless American cooks" or Sarah Jessica Parker sums it all up in one question. I don't necessarily want to be like them.

Deep down, I'm just insecure enough to want validation from friends, or even strangers online. But my pride keeps me from writing from the real depths of myself.

One of my life goals is to write a book. Whether fiction or nonfiction, I'm not sure. And I don't know how to approach this goal. Perhaps this blog, if I were to be diligent about it, could serve as fodder for a book about work. Or I could broaden the blog's scope to be about my life in general. Either way, it requires a commitment and dedication that may be beyond me.

Also, I have no idea how to even put pictures on this blog thingy, make it look chic or artsy, or organize it to be more attractive. So....those are my thoughts right now.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Totally Unnatural

My friend and fellow nurse, Elise, asked me to come into one of the patient rooms with her to help prepare her patient's eyes for cornea donation (actually, the word used is "harvesting" but that just seems too grotesque and industrial).

"She died from thyroid cancer with mets," Elise explained as we entered the dimly lit room. The family had said their goodbyes and gone home. Unthinkingly, my hand flitted to my own thyroid. Although her body was already cold, the woman didn't really look dead. I kept waiting for her chest to rise. It didn't.

I asked what the woman's name was, and Elise told me. Even though we knew somewhere deep down that she couldn't hear us, we still explained what we were about to do. Holding her eyelids open gently, I watched as Elise instilled saline in the woman's already cloudy eyes, and then I taped the eyelids closed. I fought the temptation to wipe what looked like salty tears from her cheeks.

"Should we put another blanket on her?" Elise asked.
"No. She's gone," I said.

We left her with her knitted hat on her head, her hands folded. Chest unmoving.

Death is not natural.
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