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.