In theory this is the first in a series of posts about meaningful moments that I would like to think would happen weekly, but that in reality will probably show up on scattered days here and there, because, you know, life and stuff.
Since things were getting pretty touchy-feely around here as 2016 drew to a close, I’ll kick things off with a story about a time when I was kind of a jerk.
A few days after L’s big surgery in October, L woke up with significant pain. He had lost his epidural the night before and very clearly needed some extra pain management, and I was in mama bear mode while trying to calm him since thrashing doesn’t feel particularly good on a fresh abdominal incision.
Right about that time our nurse for the day walked in to introduce herself. She was most likely assessing the situation and getting a quick update from Z, but in the heat of my mama-bear moment it felt like they were both standing there for ages and ages watching my child in pain without doing anything at all to help.
“Can you get him some morphine instead of just standing there?!”
Sometimes I’m an asshole.
Now, it would have been a normal human response for her to get defensive or chalk me up as a pain in the butt. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d done so – simply checking off her required duties and stopping there, or avoiding engaging with me since I was not her patient and I was clearly kind of difficult.
Instead, she recognized that my sharp words were not directed at her, but instead stemmed from the stress of the situation. In spite of me having introduced myself as kind of a jerk in that moment, she gave me the benefit of the doubt and went out of her way to provide fantastic care for our whole family, not just L. When we were stuck waiting in radiology between rounds of imaging, she came down to us with a dose of antibiotics and stayed for the 15 minutes it took to run through his line, talking to us about our journey with L’s health and our experiences with different providers. She took that time to get to know us and what we needed from our caregivers, and she really listened and responded to our needs. She respected us as experienced members of L’s care team and made sure we were included in decision-making when it came time to determine whether or not L should remain NPO (nothing to eat or drink) another day. And when it came time to change the dressing on his central line, which we do at home once a week, she let me do it myself according to the procedures we use at home, which are sterile but more child-friendly and familiar than some of the standard hospital protocols, and so ultimately safer and more comfortable for L – and was a better support for me through that still-stressful process than any other nurse who has ever assisted me with a dressing change (I’m looking at you, nurse who criticized or questioned every move I made even though you hadn’t done a dressing change yourself in months).
On the day we were discharged, she was serving as charge nurse. She helped move things along to make sure we were discharged on schedule, and we arrived at home mid-afternoon with plenty of time to get settled back in and set up the evening’s TPN. Only, the TPN hadn’t been delivered to our house, and when we called to check on it our home pharmacy said they had not received the orders. After several phone calls with GI and the pharmacist, I called back up to the surgery floor we had just been discharged from – and she answered. It was right at shift change and I caught her just as she was about to walk out the door, but even though it was not her error (it turned out to be an error on the side of the home pharmacy), instead of passing us off to someone else she took charge of the situation, stayed late to make sure new orders were sent, called the pharmacist herself to make sure she had received the new orders and called us back to make sure our delivery was on its way, because she wanted to make sure L had what he needed to continue his recovery.
This is not a story about listening or staying late. What impresses upon me the most is that she did all this after I snapped at her, without missing a beat. This is really a story of selflessness; of being able to recognize when others are in pain and to swallow your pride and put them first. It’s what we would hope of any caregiver, but in practice, as humans, I think it’s much harder to live out. And it seems to me that the ability to truly put the patient (and even his asshole family members) first is what caregiving is really all about.