Aftershocks

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This piece is dark and I feel like I should almost put out a disclaimer to anyone who might read it. Writing is cathartic; that’s what I needed.

I’ve been staring at this screen for a long time and still don’t know how to start. Though I can’t see myself doing anything else, sometimes being a nurse sucks. It just does. I know I should be sharing the good sides of nursing, and there are many- the honor of working with people who let you in at the most intimate times of their lives, being witness to miracles, seeing patients who were on the brink of death recover fully- but that’s not what this post is about. Today the well’s run a little dry and I’m praying for rain soon. It’ll come. It always does. Maybe even tomorrow.

Recently, we had a patient with end-stage lung disease. He’d been on our unit a few weeks, and we all had gotten to know him well. Early in the morning, his nurse called me to say he was having distress. We got him past the event with medications and a respiratory treatment; he had declined so much since I’d seen him last.

He asked me to stay with him after the others left so I pulled a chair up to his bed. He took my hand, looked into my eyes, and asked, “What’s going to happen to me?”

I said, “You’re very sick, Mr. Gandy. I know you’ve been speaking with your doctors about your options.” They had been discussing hospice and comfort measures but Mr. Gandy hadn’t made a decision yet.

“Yeah, I’ve been talking to them. I want to talk to you now. Please tell me.” He must have read my mind because the next words out of his mouth were, “I know you’re not a doctor and that’s ok. It’s just you and me in this room and you’ve been doing this a long time. Please tell me what’s going to happen.”

“If what happened this morning happens again, or if you get any worse, we’ll have to intubate you. If we do that, we may not be able to get you off the ventilator.” Saying those words out loud was awful. I don’t want to try to imagine how his hearing them must have felt.

He asked, “How long do I have? Is it weeks? Days? I’m not gonna make it out of the hospital, am I?” I answered honestly. His eyes were filled with tears; he squeezed my hand and said, “Thank you.” He asked me to call his brother for him so I did.

When the doctor came in, I told him what Mr. Gandy and I had been talking about. We discussed the progression of his disease and his prognosis with him. When asked about his goals, Mr. Gandy said, “My goal, what I want, is to be able to go home…but I know that’s not realistic.” What do you say to that? Sometimes, often really, there just are no words. He gave us an out when he said, “Tell me about comfort care.”

Mr. Gandy ultimately made the decision to be a DNR and opted for comfort measures only. He asked me to call his family again and I did. That too was tough.

I am very fortunate to have the best, most compassionate coworkers in the world. Some of the nurses got Mr. Gandy’s nurse to take a break and took over the care of her other patients. They also pitched in to perform some of my tasks so I could stay with the patient. I stayed with him until he died about an hour later.

We try everything we can to bring comfort to those suffering-giving medicines and treatments; most of the time it helps. Other times, we have to hope that our presence makes a difference.

My ego leads me to think I should be able to fix everything myself. It gets in the way and is unfair to others. One of my neighbors is a really close friend and is like a younger brother. His daughter is my favorite of all the neighborhood kids (https://awhitlow2.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/remembering-the-wheeeeee-for-hannah/). We were talking about Hannah one day, and Jeff said, “I’m just trying to make sure she doesn’t grow up to be an a-hole.” You’re successful, Dad, because she’s definitely not! Keeping his words in mind and striving hard to not be an a-hole either, I reached out to one of my brothers and one of my sisters about struggling with this death. Talking to them helped immensely.

Now I’m just waiting on the rain…

Author: awhitlow2

Murder can take a long time if you’re writing about it. My name is Ashleigh, and I’m a recovering next-timer… we’ll get together next time, I’ll call you next time, I’ll write about it next time, I’ll tell you I love you next time. Then reality hit (finally) that there may not be a next time and I was stunned. What?! We only get one shot at life? Really?! I’m also a recovering slow-learner. So in light of that realization that was over 40 years in the making, I’m writing my first novel- murder, love, redemption. I’m not sure what direction it will take but am enjoying the process and isn’t that what life’s all about anyway? More importantly, I’m living with gratitude for my family; God opened my eyes to the blessings of family and I’m thankful to Him and them for hanging in there with me all these years. (Did I mention I’m a slow-learner?) I’m a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a nurse, and a writer who LOVES to sing. Loudly. Badly. When no one else is around to hear it. Except the cat. Poor cat.

4 thoughts on “Aftershocks”

  1. I was an acute care nurse performing hemodialysis for thirty years. I have this conversation with a few of my patients. I always made sure they knew dialysis was life support and continuation or stopping were both options. I made sure they knew they had the right to choose treatment, no treatment, or to choose not to make a decision. Most seemed relieved to have frank conversation.

    1. Bless you!
      We are with most of our patients only a short time. As a dialysis nurse, you must have had opportunities to get to know your patients far more and for a longer period of time than I do.
      It is such an honor to be in the position of developing that enormous sense of trust. Often “we” as a whole wait too long to have those conversations… thank you for having those talks with them!

  2. Such conversations are part of the challenges facing care givers, teachers, and spiritual leaders. It helps us to remember our own mortality when speaking to others on the subject, but I have found that the two most important attitudes are respect, and a lack of expectations on our part. We can be a comrade to the person facing the fork in the road, accepting his or her choices, and travel just a bit of the road together with him or her. My blessing to you for clear headed thinking and love.

    1. Shimon, thank you. I wish I could express adequately how much your words- respect, lack of expectations, and traveling a bit of the road- have helped me; they have. Enormously.
      For several reasons, this death was one of the hardest to witness. Our hospital chaplain is wise and speaking with him helped too although I felt guilt worrying about burdening him with grief. It’s can be awfully challenging not to be able to “fix” and “cure.”
      I’ve wondered about how to be present for the next “Mr. Gandy,..” it helps to have your message in my heart.

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