Saturday, August 02, 2008

Amnesia

I feel as if I’ve been dragged into an abyss I cannot get out of. Ever since the heavy influx of casualties 4 weeks ago I haven’t been able to regain my equilibrium. Between incredibly sick and dying patients at work and friends deploying or moving away at home I edge farther and farther into darkness. Some nights I come home after a long shift and simply want to sleep, to forget. To turn off the brain that remains alert, imaginary monitor alarms shrieking inside my head and not think about one more thing.

I’ve never done well with “good byes”; it’s probably the most single thing I abhor about having friends in the military. Unless they retire and stay in the area, they’re always leaving. To them “good byes” are a way of life, but to me. . . well, it’s just painful and sad. Last week I said farewell to a friend heading to Afghanistan. This week I said adios to a friend moving to the opposite coast. Next week it is yet another going to Europe. I even hate to say au revior to some of my patients! Gawd, what a sap I am. Sentimental female.

Combine that with my professional challenges and it’s a fast track into depression.

Today as I passed through the doors into the unit I saw family members standing in the hallway. Moving fast I only briefly glanced at them, recognizing the wife and son of man I took care of several weeks running but no longer in need of critical care. “Something must have happened” was the thought that ran through my head, and as I moved along corridor I saw frenzied activity in one of the rooms. My former patient was being coded, staff working feverishly to no avail. The doctor went out to speak with the wife and brought her back with him, decisions to be made, as he would not recover. In a quiet, sympathetic voice the physician explained to the wife the dire outcome. As she listened to him she looked up and saw me, tightly grabbing my hand she said, “Clara, what do I do?”

“Oh god”, I thought, “Please don’t put me in this position, please don’t ask me that.”

My coworkers and I knew our efforts were futile. My patient’s wife knew he was terminally ill but still she asked. Begging, my hand grasped in hers, she pleaded, “please Clara, is there nothing you can do?” “Please, please, are you sure there is nothing more?” “What do I do, Clara?” “What do I do?”

Her pleas broke my heart and the tears that had weld up in my eyes began to pour down my face. A coworker and friend looked at me with understanding and sympathy for the position I was being placed in. I laid my arm across the wife’s shoulder, placed my cheek on the top of her head and softly said, “it’s time to stop. If there were something we could do we would but we can’t.”

Her son appeared at the bedside and said “Mom, this isn’t what he would have wanted. Please Mom, it’s time to stop, let them stop.”

The wife gazed at me, grief filling her face, “Clara?” she asked me once more.

I slowly shook my head “no”.

Reaching down she grasped her husband’s hand in hers, kissed his cheek and turned away, moving slowly out of the room. As we walked down the hallway to the waiting room sobs filled her body. It was one of those sobs that starts in the pit of your stomach and crawls its way up, gaining force until there’s nothing you can do but fall to your knees and howl in overwhelming sorrow.

I delivered her into the arms of her waiting family and slowly walked back into the unit. When I was alone I bowed my head and asked for divine strength to make it through the remainder of my workday. It was only 0730.

Prayers heard, I survived the day and now am home. I’m home and I’m alone, very alone. Sadness and exhaustion weigh me down and I revert back to familiar patterns. I simply want to sleep. I simply want to crawl into bed, pull the covers up and fall into amnesic slumber. I don’t want to think anymore and I don’t want to be alone.

4 comments:

Earl said...

You are always alone, you care and that puts you far from the maddening crowd of happy seekers. About the good-byes they are always "until we meet again's" even those that have died around me, I expect to meet again, they come to me often in my sleep. Sleep, they - the watchers will keep you safe, they will want your healing when they get hurt, and lots of us almost useless folks are hoping you will get some peace and fulfillment from your work and the wonders you see every day. God bless all your best, thank you.

Ky Woman said...

Clara,

You are never alone...Never!

Just reach out and touch someone.

Miss Em said...

Clara...

Pick up you keys and put your shoes on and go for a walk and take a good look at nature, go people watching at the mall, go sit quietly in a Chapel and seek the strength that the Peaceful Quiet can bring but DO NOT simply crawl into bed, pull the covers up and fall into amnesic slumber for that accomplishes NOTHING.

Call a friend, share a quart of your favorite ice cream with an old chum, go sit in a park and laugh at the antics of the squirrels, Smell a few of the Roses along the way in order find the balance of Life to off-set the debt of Suffering that you struggle daily to eliminate.

As for not wanting to say good-bye to friends that are leaving -- THEN DON'T.

The internet makes them very close no matter where they go. A phone call can bring a cherised voice with in the reach of your ears.

In today's world there should be no good-byes but a last question of what's you e-mail address again and I will be talking to you soon.

Now, Clara, just where did you put those shoes and house keys???

Don said...

It sounds to me as if this woman needed someone she trusted to tell her what she already knew she had to do. Making that decision is never easy even when the patient who has coded twice in the last 2 hours is 91 and a retired nurse who has participated in countless codes and has for 20 years expressed a wish to all not to have heroic measures performed. Even when you expect to have to make that decision, it isn't easy to do.

We, as humans, do not want to let go of what we love. You, as a caring human, see it and feel it. If you ever find that you can face those situations without feeling then it might be good to consider a different line of work.