January 7th, 2015
The nursing profession is one enriched with challenges and as nurses, we quickly learn to combat these challenges head-on. We are equipped with innovative decision making skills and with the knowledge to implement procedures swiftly. We learn how to problem solve challenges extending from creatively securing that all-to-precariously perched cannula, to keeping that insistently noise-blaringly loud Alaris pump silenced, to calmly dealing with the loved ones of our patients – which in my opinion often poses as the biggest challenge of all.
You would like to think that as nurses, the renown ‘Cold Blue’ would be our greatest anticipated fear, but I would argue that it falls a close second behind dealing with the wife who believes the hospital isn’t doing enough for the one she loves most. It is a difficult circumstance to be caught in the middle of and I find that in these situations the term nurse becomes interchangeable with the term mediator or councillor.
In my time spent on a medical ward, I have come to realise not only the significant challenge that family poses in caring for my patients, but the roots of which this challenge is first derived. By name, we call them anxiety and fear, and they cling to the walls of every hospital like a vine. For a nurse, this is a concept worth knowing, or even better experiencing. Because the fear and anxiety in each and every one of my patient’s loved ones, or the behaviour that often thrives in succession, simply can’t be understood unless you youself venture onto ‘the other side’…
Last Saturday night, I experienced what it was like to be the loved one.
I had just gotten out of the shower and thrown on an old t-shirt when my phone lit up announcing a phone call from my Dad. His response to my happy hello was as fear-provoking as only one other phone call I had had answered before in my life and I could feel my heart beat pound through my skin, vibrating through to the depths of my being.
“Sweetheart, I think your mother is having a stroke”.
The concern in his voice was piercing through the phone, I could hear fear enveloping his every word. As he swiftly described the facial droop, the left-sided weakness and the jumbled words I urged him to call for an ambulance, and then call me when they had arrived.
Then came the release of adrenaline, coursing through my veins like a river after a rainfall. It was a familiar sensation, and I had remembered the feeling from when it had been Mum calling me four years ago announcing Dad had had a heart attack. It only took one look at the terror in my eyes for my Mr to put down his phone, switch off the TV, pick up his car keys and say “Let’s go”.
I don’t know what it is about situations like these that makes if feel as if time is standing still. It only takes twenty-five minutes to make it to the hospital from my place on a good day, thirty if the Sunday Afternoon Drivers are out in full force prematurely to Sunday itself. But on this afternoon, it felt like we drove through two entire countries, three states and four desserts before arriving at the Emergency Department.
We had beat the ambulance there, and from the top of the hill traced it’s flashing lights through the busy roads of town and when it could no longer be traced, silently fixated on the nearest corner to the hospital in view anticipating its arrival.
It was a very long night as I watched my mother shake with fear, tears streaming down her face. I held her hand and tried to manoeuvre myself around the many hospital staff moving rhythmically and in succession around her bed without letting go. Her beautiful blue eyes that I did not inherit were flittering back and forth between my Father’s and mine, screaming violently her internal terror as her lips failed miserably with words.
It was close to midnight before things started to settle. Slowly, her ability to speak had returned and the droop in her face lessened enough for her to begin speaking again. Her arm rested by her side, weak and floppy but minimally responsive. She was covered in electrode stickers from head to toe, and attached to many monitors that continued to beep relentlessly.
A little after midnight we gave her a kiss and retired home to sleep, or at least that was the ambition. I found myself restless and unable to close my eyes, thoughts churning wildly. I sat on the couch and watched the sun rise breathe life into Sunday morning, and found a moment to be thankful that she had made it through .
It was an absolutely terrifying night, and I have now a first-hand experience in what it is like to stand on the other side as a family member encased by anxiety and fear. And no, while I never consulted with ‘Google Doctor’, or made any aggressive taunts at the medical staff as some of my own patients have done, I still felt the all-consuming factor if my mother had not survived it would not affect them as much as it would affect my own little family.
And with that in mind, I have fallen victim to understanding ‘the other side’. I have gained such a valuable insight into what it feels like to be the loved one, to fear for what comes next. And while it is true that some people handle the emotions that come with this a little better than others, I at least can acknowledge where the outbursts stem from and that in itself I feel is empowering for me when as return to the ‘nursing side’.
And for those that are wondering, my mother is now doing well. She has made quite the recovery already, a soldier in disguise. I like to think I get my fight from her, because after all she is the strongest person I know.
But I can’t help but smile at the irony of my life sometimes. It would seem that I have become a nurse just in time to look after the ones I love most, even if it has become quite apparent that I can’t keep myself away from the hospital even on my days off!
2015 is certainly off to an eventful start.