Right when you think you've lost it

In my line of work it is rare to feel any sort of a connection with any of the patients considering the pace at which we are constantly going from either screening a new patient being wheeled in, to catching up on labs from those already admitted, to hunting down family in order to enroll that perfect patient who fits all criteria for which we are looking for.

I work only three days a week, 13.5 hour shifts, so I often feel as though I am going on autopilot. In the rare downtime I am often looking up different medical terminology (aka 'The Greek language of docs') in order to constantly fill my head with useful information. (No worries though, I always save room for useless crap as well. There is always room for useless crap).

This past Saturday was shaping up to be like any other Saturday complete with lots of car crashes and falls. Nothing too spectacular. While in the beginning of my working at the trauma center this would have been endlessly fascinating, I have come to be what some may consider "de-sensitized". I really hate that wording though. I have always fancied myself to be a considerably sensitive person, and to think that now faced with people that are potentially in dire need I might be 'de-sensitized' horrifies me.

It wasn't until later on that day we got a somewhat interesting call about a person sustaining multiple stab wounds.

Now your typical stab victim is usually either a) coming from a corrections facility, b) drunk off their rocker, c) in some sort of nasty street fight or d) involved in illegal activities. Needless to say you often know the backstory of the victim before they ever even arrive. This person was somehow different.

Our victim came in without a name or any other sort of identifying items. The only thing that was known was that there was a name for the bad guy. Whether our victim was a bad guy too was still unknown. I remember the paramedic telling the officer rather un-apologetically that the reason he didn't get a definitive name was that he was trying to keep the victim awake by reciting ABC's on the way in and really was more focused on that than anything.

My co-worker and I stayed around a bit to gather blood pressure information and when it seemed all in control, went off to do our nightly fluid collections on our other research patients.

It wasn't until later on when I was alone, having come from a somewhat emotional trip to the TBI floor (either you do remarkably well, or you just don't) I came down to check on my stab victim. Turns out they were a perfect candidate for one of our studies.

I ran to the attending doc to get permission to approach the family and then off I went to find them.

I often wonder how it is that I can gather enough courage to approach a family or loved one about a research study when they are feeling every fearful and terrible emotion possible at that moment. This coming from a girl who could barely pick up a phone to sell a stupid band sub in her high school days. This coming from a girl who would rather go to the doctor for a booster shot and blood draw than go door to door selling Girl Scout cookies as a grade schooler. I'm still trying to figure of that out.

I find my family and escort them into the quiet room. I see their faces and can tell they have every question in the book on their minds right now. Do I have any promising new information for them? Am I bringing them terrible news? (Considering we wear the same white coats as the docs, it isn't rare for us to have eager eyes staring us down when we pass by the waiting area thinking we are docs coming with information.)

I then tell them that I am from research and that because of the injuries sustained by their loved one, they (their loved one) are eligible for a study. I go on to explain the study, at the same time reading the faces of those gathered around me. The father who doesn't quite seem to understand what happened and keeps questioning me about the status of his family member. The mother who looks so tired and scared for her baby. The brother who just looks as though he is about to be sick, all the while wondering who did this to his sibling. The sister-in-law with her sweet presence that seems to make me feel more at ease. And then of course the 'out for blood' family member who rakes the mother over the coals for even considering allowing the patient to participate in a research study because "you know all the government wants to do is experiment on us". After the conspiracy theorist go slamming out of the quiet room, I look over to the mother and gently remind her that this is all voluntary and if she feels at all uncomfortable with anything she can decline.

She accepted, hoping this will help others one day.

From there it was a fast scurry to move forward with the procedures of the project. All the while I found myself constantly concerned for the welfare of not only the patient but for the patient's family as well. I was incessantly curious about how the patient was doing. Had the patient not pulled through despite to our amazing surgeons, I would have felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and loss for the family. When I went up to check on the patient later on in the wee hours of the morning (and 4 hours after my shift had officially ended) I just wanted to be sure they were ok. To be sure that they were being treated with the utmost care and concern by their nurses. They were more than just another person rolling through the double doors.

Does this mean I haven't lost the sensitivity? I suppose that isn't such a bad thing.

1 comment:

  1. I came over to check on you since I hadn't gotten updates on Google Reader since November. I have no idea why it stopped working for your blog! You seem to have been busy so now I have a few months to catch up on!


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