Feb. 28, 2015

the true heart of an ER nurse

As I was reading my last blog it occurred to me that there is a possibility that I might have offended people with my sarcasm and humor.  If you are one of those people, please know that was not my intention. If I offended you, then I apologize. I was simply writing an anecdotal replay of some of the funnier aspects of ER nursing.   What I left out of my post was the serious side of the job that nurses and staff members in this field deal with.  I would like to take this opportunity to explore those things now.  If you are a person that reads my blog for fun, this won't be fun.  This will be painful.  This might slice your heart open and even make it bleed a little.

ER nursing is not for the weak.  Period.  You cannot be physically weak, emotionally weak or intellectually weak. We see truly horrible things.  Seriously.  We see so many people at their absolute worst and it is heartbreaking.  One cannot stay in ER medicine for long if they aren't truly passionate about it.  I guess in order to understand me fully we must take a walk back in time together.

My mother said that I was destined to help others that it came naturally to me.  I guess she was right although I didn't realize that I could do that through nursing until 1996ish.  When I decided to go to nursing school it really felt like the stars were aligning.  I knew that I would finally be able to help countless people.  Pediatrics in particular.  I loved and still love taking care of pediatric patients.  I was going to be a Pediatric Nurse from the word GO! That is until I witnessed a car accident outside of the business that I was working for at the time.  There was a child involved and I was able to help and comfort him until the helicopter landed in our parking lot and whisked the patient away to our local trauma center.  It was at that precise moment that I knew that I was destined to be an ER nurse and nothing else.

In the past 19 years I have seen it all.  I have looked into a patient's eyes and told them that I loved them as they died because they were there alone and I couldn't bear them leaving this earth without them hearing it one more time, even if it was from a stranger.  I have taken care of children that were badly burned over 99% of their bodies all the while showing them the love of a mother because their own mother was dying in the room next door and I knew that she was the only person in the world that they wanted.  (She couldn't be there so I was trying to help her by loving her children while giving them the medical care that they needed.) I have performed CPR on my patient's wife because her heart stopped while I was giving care to her husband.  I have held the hands of mothers whose children were in horrible industrial accidents.  I have hugged and laughed with my patients and made them feel like they mattered.  I have a record-breaking door to cath lab time of 6 minutes.  That is UNREAL.  I know that my team saved the life of that patient having a heart attack and it feels good to know that.  I have held dying babies in one room and then within a few minutes had to wipe my tears and move to my next patient who was suffering from something much more minor and act like they were the only patient I had seen that day.  I have appropriately cared for amputated legs and hands and arms so that the surgeon would be able to reattach them.  I have performed sexual assault exams on elderly women who were so vulnerable that some one very evil took advantage of them.  I have had multiple cases like the ones listed all on the same day.  Such horrible, heartbreaking shifts that I didn't leave my house for days after just trying to wrap my head around the things that I had seen and the losses that I had experienced when I was unable to make it better for my patients.  

Why did I do this and continue to do this?  BECAUSE THEY MATTER TO ME.  Every one of them.  Even the ones that check in for things that aren't necessarily emergencies.  I love my patients.  Most of the people who come to the ER without emergencies do so because they don't realize they have another choice in the matter.  They are doing what they were shown by their parents' parents to do.  The truth is that those patients give ER nurses a kind of "break" from the patients that literally rip out the hearts of health care providers. Those are the patients that are EASY to help.  Getting pain under control, giving IV fluids to a dehydrated patient, splinting broken bones, giving IV antibiotics to patients with dental abscesses...those are the easy patients.  Those are the patients that we get to see first hand the difference that we make in their lives.  They come in miserable and they leave feeling better.  Who wouldn't like that?  Those are the patients that we get to joke with and make laugh.  The diligent type of ER nursing that I practice is extremely rewarding and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

I absolutely love being an ER nurse.  I have said it before and I will say it again.  I LOVE BEING AN ER NURSE.  I would also like to say that I am pretty darn good at it. Not only do I love the ER but I also love my patients and they love me, too.  I see each and every one of them as my fellow man.  I see that we are in this fight together.  Does it become frustrating at times? Absolutely it does but that is just part of it.  Everything in life worth fighting for becomes frustrating at times.  Parenting, marriages, being a homeowner, religion...all frustrating when you are passionate about making them work.  

When you look at an ER nurse you are seeing the part of them that they are willing to show you.  What you aren't seeing is the part of their soul that will forever be changed because of the things that they have seen. If you were able to look more closely at their hearts, you would see scars.  For me, those scars are good things.  Those are tiny slices that make me more understanding.  Those slices keep the patients in my past alive in a strange sort of way.  They deeply touched me and I will carry them with me always.  Someday, when I get to heaven, I envision meeting them again and hugging them and telling them that I am sorry that we couldn't have done more to save them.  ER nurses are humanitarians.  True Humanitarians.  They love people or they wouldn't be able to do the job that they do. It's that simple.  

So next time you see an ER nurse laughing inappropriately or maybe blogging with humor that you may not understand, do not condemn them.  I assure you they are doing their best and most of the time, if they have been doing it for many years, those are the nurses that you want taking care of you.  They have learned how to juggle the emotion, the knowledge, the grief and the understanding that it takes to be as perfect of an ER nurse as possible.  I have always said that if humans are the body of Christ then nurses are His hands. We are doing God's work with every person that we touch whether it is to save a life or to wash the feet of the homeless.  Sometimes we joke but I promise you  (and I am speaking for all of the ER nurses out there) we are doing everything out of love for each and every one of you that need us.  The truth is that we realize that just because it isn't an emergency for us, we realize that it IS an emergency for our patients.  We are just trying to make the world a better place.