I have done a few kinds of nursing. ICU, ER, Cath Lab, EP, LTC, a little corrections, and a few agency assignments here and there. There are always good and bad things. The bad things usually linger for longer in our minds.
I have taken care of a Holocaust victim with a number tattooed on her arm, who thought I was a Nazi when I entered her room. Her bloodcurdling screams of fear broke my heart into pieces.
I have taken care of a nineteen year old heroin overdose victim who came in dead and stayed that way. This was barely two years after my own teenage son was killed. The broken wails of his mother will stay with me forever.
I have turned off the ventilator many times and let a patient either gasp themselves to death, or die peacefully and medicated. Depending on the wishes of their families. I have laughed, and cried with them. I have closed their loved one’s eyes.
I was never ashamed, because I always felt like I did all I could do.
Until that one day.
I was trying to make some extra money and picked up a few extra shifts. I worked 11 days straight. Eleven Twelve hour ER night shifts. I can’t even believe I was allowed to work all of those in a row. I was physically and emotionally exhausted by that 11th day, so naturally I got a heart wrenching story out of it.
I took care of a man who was obviously living rough. He was dirty, smelly and disheveled, and came in for a foot wound. This was a filthy, infected wound but nothing that couldn’t be taken care of as an outpatient. During his course of treatment, he told me he wanted to kill himself.
Naturally, I reported it to the physician and he was placed on a psych hold. We were able to get him cleaned up and dressed in clean scrubs. He had a hot (though not gourmet) meal of a frozen dinner. We chatted a bit when I had time. He had a sad story that included the usual. Mental health problems, substance abuse and homelessness. His family no longer spoke with him because of the issues he caused them with his drug problem.
He was evaluated by psych. And because he didn’t have a plan, he was discharged. He told me when I was discharging him that he still knew he was going to commit suicide. I talked to the doc again, who agreed that the patient should be admitted, but that there was nothing she could do. I discharged him, with a little bit of money and the usual phone numbers for shelters and such.
And he died a few days later. I saw the obituary about a week after I discharged him. No cause of death, just an obit naming him ‘beloved son and brother’.
I was never called for a deposition, so I assume his family didn’t wish to sue.
And I let him go back to the streets after he told me of his desperation. And I will never believe there wasn’t something else I could have done.
And for him, I advocate for the homeless, the mentally ill, the dual-diagnosis patients, and their complete lack of access to decent care.
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