Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Forgotten

It was possibly the worse presentation I've ever seen in a living person. EMTs bring us an older man, sliding down the stretcher struggling to breathe, caked in layers of his own waste. He's missing both legs below the knees. The story we got was that the man had been staying in one of the local nursing homes when he left because he felt that he wasn't being well taken care of. Considering the place we're talking about, he was probably right. He took his wheelchair and what little money he had, and called his son to meet him at the super market down the street. He waited a long time for his son to show up. He got some food, which made him sick- when night fell, he wheeled himself back up to the nursing home. At this point he was not only ill, but very short of breath, as he had also been all day without oxygen. At some point he fell out of his wheelchair and into the street in front of the nursing home. The staff eventually went outside in the early hours of the next morning to smoke and found him- they left him in the street and called the ambulance to come pick him up.
He was one of the sweetest patients I've ever taken care of. He was so apologetic about the state he was in. "It must've been that fruit I ate", he said, "I'm so, so sorry. This is so awful." I reassured him that this is what we do, all the time, and if I was afraid of poop I would have been pretty foolish to become a nurse. He was one of those people who is just incredibly grateful for even the smallest of gestures. He gushed about how great his care was. "You don't understand," he told me, "not all nurses are as kind as you. I usually go the the VA hospital, and it's not like that there. But you're very sweet." His voice cracked as he spoke. In talking to him, I gathered that he fought in Vietnam, which was where he lost his legs. He suffered from PTSD and for all practical purposes, had nowhere to really call home. He had been in and out of different hospitals and nursing homes for the last several years.
This has been nearly a month ago, and a day hasn't gone by that I haven't thought of him. Here is this sweet, vulnerable old man who has sacrificed more that I can fathom. And we live in a world where he is literally left in the street covered in his own waste gasping for air while people that call themselves healthcare workers walk by on their smoke break without doing anything to help. It hurts me to think about it.
I think about the last time I saw him before I went home- sitting up in bed, finally clean, wrapped in blankets with rosy red cheeks-a marked difference from the hypoxic pallor he came in with. He was sleeping, but he opened his eyes and smiled at me as I waved goodbye.
Lots of people have asked me how I don't burn out doing what I do. The answer is the occasional person like this. Being able to bring a smile to the face of someone who has so undeservedly been bound to miserable circumstances for so long. Knowing that I can bring some comfort to someone who has seen so much suffering, to make them feel important and cared for again is enough to sustain me through the months of bullshit.

12 comments:

  1. Yes, lots of sad cases out there...and I would agree with you....it's moments like this, and patients like this that make going into our occupation at all worthwhile.... otherwise I would definitely not have been doing this for so long....

    Thanks for your story. Well done.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for beautiful reminder of why we do what we do.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for this story. He is the reason some of us are in healthcare, others it may just be for the money. Sometimes we have to get back to basics and just really "care" about what we do or "care" about another person the way you care about this gentleman. I'm in nursing school now but worked as an EMT. I'll admit when I was an EMT many of our calls were bs 911 abusers but then a call like this guy would come along and make the job so worth it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It’s interactions like these that make it all worthwhile, isn’t it ?~!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh my goodness! Where was his son? Why did it take so long for his son to come?

    Thank you for the reminder to all of us about how important kindness is. Also, thank you for the reminder that we need to always show gratitude to people who are making an effort on our behalf. Both are important.

    Christina

    ReplyDelete
  6. And I now have a lump in my throat after reading that. God bless that man and I hope he's in a better living situation now. Amazing how someone who would have every reason to be bitter and unhappy and a PITA patient was such a sweet guy...while I'm sure you have plenty of others who don't have it so bad but decide to compete for the title of World's Worst Patient.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's people like this that remind us why we chose the fields we chose. To be champions for those who need one.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's heart breaking to me how cold some people in this world are. You're right though, these are the ones who make doing it worthwhile.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you for what you do.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Kimberly, nursing studentSeptember 13, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    And this is why I so want to be a nurse...to bring comfort where I can. Your story says it well...to help just one person makes the rest of it a little better.

    ReplyDelete
  11. It must be so hard coming across people like this gentleman, and not being able to take them home and smother the with love, kindness, decent meals and a warm bed.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I appreciate the story. It reminds me a lot of some of the sweet and charming young people on the adolescent psych unit compared to other kids who come from damaged families and have become problematic themselves. Stark difference in patients, but the occasional lover overshadows the frustrating patients.

    ReplyDelete