Why Nurses Cry: Musings on the Loss of a Patient


Recently I found out that two of my former patients died.  Yes, like many other nurses, I scan the local obituaries every so often looking for names I recognize.  I don’t know why I do this because it inevitably leads to a few tears if I see the name of a patient I really liked, & this happens a lot more often than you might think.  But in an odd way I think reading these obituaries also brings me a bit of closure because it allows me to know that a person whose suffering I witnessed first-hand is now freed from their earthly turmoil.empathy

This situation definitely left me with a few tears in my eyes even though realistically I know that death was the best option for both of these patients.  I know most people view death as the enemy, but one thing I learned very early in my nursing career is that death is NOT always the enemy.  When people are suffering the way these folks were, death can actually be quite the opposite.  And what pains me more than anything is when patients are not able to experience a dignified death that is as peaceful & painless as possible.  Things are slowly improving but unfortunately hospice & palliative care services are still very under-utilized in our society.  (As some of you may know, I actually volunteer with a local hospice group because I feel so strongly about the importance of hospice.)hospice 1

Anyhow, all of this got me to thinking about the many times I have cried as a nurse, both on the job & at home when thinking about my patients after work.  It happens less frequently than it used to because I’ve learned to develop more of a “shell” to help protect me . . . This doesn’t mean I’ve become hard-hearted & insensitive (someone please tell me the day I do so I can turn in my badge).  But as a nurse I’ve had to learn to balance my own mental sanity with showing compassion towards my patients & their families.  Throughout my life I’ve often been told I’m “sensitive” & that I “wear my heart on my sleeve” (who comes up with these expressions?!), & while I certainly hope to never lose that side of me, I’ve had to learn to “buck up” & withstand a lot of things that I probably couldn’t have faced years ago. tears

At this point in my career, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen someone die.  I’ve lost count of the number of dead bodies I’ve touched & cleaned up to send to the funeral home.  Since I’m not an ED or ICU nurse I don’t see a whole lot of codes but even so I’ve still lost track of the number of codes I’ve assisted with.  And I could probably write a whole book about the number of times I’ve helped prevent a code from happening, for example by recognizing that a patient was dangerously hypoglycemic & giving them D50 (sugar water) in their IV to raise their blood sugar or by recognizing that a patient was in pulmonary edema & needed IV Lasix STAT to pull the fluid off of their lungs, just to name a few . . . Notice a pattern here?  Nurses really do save lives, y’all.  Doctors are great & I have a huge appreciation & respect for the work they do.  But seriously, until you’re a nurse you have no idea how important nurses are.  There is a reason we are called the backbone of the healthcare industry.  We as nurses are the ones watching your lab values, your vital signs, your telemetry (heart monitor), your I&O (fluid intake & output), & your mental status (among other things) like a hawk.  More often than not we are the ones recommending/telling the doctors what needs to be done . . . Again, I am not trying to take away from the important work that doctors do.  I’m just saying that one of the biggest reasons I do not regret choosing nursing school over medical school is that I see on a daily basis just how big of a difference I really make.

Despite the challenges & frustrations of my career, I'm still glad I chose nursing over med school.

Whew, that was a tangent that I wasn’t intending to go on, but, hey, it happens sometimes.  Anyway, when I see that one of my former patients has died (or when a patient dies under my care), there is always a small part of me that feels like all of our hard work to save them has been in vain.  Realistically I know that most of these patients are coming in with so many different medical comorbidities that the chances of them surviving, or at least surviving with any real quality of life (which is after all the more important factor), are low.  But every once in a while I find myself thinking “Gosh, so much of what I do is just keeping people alive for a few more days, weeks, or months, usually with a great deal of suffering involved, until they inevitably die.” nurse pic

But then I remember that maybe in those last few days or weeks or months they might have gotten to see their grandson who lives all the way across the country for one last time.  Or maybe they got to witness another grandchild get married or graduate from college.  Or maybe they just had enough time to adequately say good-bye to all of their loves ones (as best as possible) & vice versa.  And maybe in the midst of all off their suffering, pain, & fears I was able to provide a calming presence, a small balm to ease their wounds.  Or maybe I was able to help their family understand their loved one’s disease process & how to prepare for their loved one’s death.nursing humor 1

All of this brings me to the main point of this post.  As long as I’m a nurse, my sincerest desire is that I never lose that sensitive soul, that compassionate drive which inspires me to do my best for my patients.  I know at times I am not able to grieve for my patients the way I want & need to because I just have to keep on moving to take care of the rest of my patients.  And I know at times I may seem hardened or callous because I don’t cry every time a patient dies or receives a bad diagnosis or because I laugh at things that non-nurses would find revolting.  But as I said, as nurses we do have to harden ourselves a little bit so that we can make it through our shifts.  Trust me, it’s a fine line, a very fine line, we walk trying to maintain our own sanity while still providing truly compassionate care to the patients & their families entrusted to usempathy

My challenge to myself & to anyone who’s reading this who is also a nurse (or any kind of healthcare worker) is this: next time you’re caring for a patient, particularly if they are “challenging” or “difficult” for whatever reason, take a moment to consider that there is probably a higher chance than you’d like to admit that the time you’re spending with this patient might be some of their last days on Earth.  With that in mind, may we all strive to be the best advocates we can be for our patients & to provide the most compassionate care we can, knowing ours could be the last voice they ever hear, our hand the last they ever hold on this planet.

A Plea for Empathy


I usually try to be pretty positive on this blog because I think there’s enough negativity in the world . . . But I have to admit that today’s post is probably going to be a little cynical because frankly that’s how I’m feeling right now.  What with some challenging, exhausting events at work this week plus the frustration of watching some of my own friends & family support this Confederate flag nonsense & subsequently freak out over the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage today, it’s all made me want to pull my own hair out.  I just want to scream “Have some empathy for two seconds, people!”

Pretty accurate visual depiction of how I'm feeling right now

Pretty accurate visual depiction of how I’m feeling right now

I haven’t had enough sleep in the past 72 hours to formulate well articulated arguments, but I am so full of anger & frustration right now that I know I need to write something, for my own sanity if nothing else.  So here goes.

If you support the Confederate flag, please stop for a minute & ask yourself this: if you were black or part black or perhaps married to someone who is black, how would this flag make you feel?  As one of my friends so eloquently pointed out to me today, the Confederate flag was not even popular immediately after the Civil War.  It wasn’t until decades later that certain segments of the (mostly) Southern population took up the flag as a symbol, largely as a sign of their hatred of blacks.  Hmmm.  Now trying to say the flag doesn’t support racism sounds even harder to believe . . .racism

Yes, I am smart enough to understand that the FLAG isn’t what makes people racist . . . That’s obviously a behavior/mentality that develops over time.  As some have astutely observed, Ferguson, MO & Baltimore had “race riots” & those states do NOT fly the Confederate flag over their state buildings while South Carolina, who does, has NOT had riots, despite the recent racially motivated mass murder.  So, no, the FLAG isn’t what makes people racist or do hateful things.  But it is still a SYMBOL that represents a less than stellar history in the treatment of black people in this country, & as such it has no place in our culture.  If you were Jewish, would you want to see Swastikas flying around on government buildings?  Didn’t think so.

Boggles my mind that these flags are still flying side by side in SC

Boggles my mind that these flags are still flying side by side in SC

As a Libertarian, I obviously value freedom & I don’t think that PRIVATE institutions should be banned from using the symbol if they desire to do so.  I still think it’s a stupid thing to do, but, hey, this is America; you have the right to be ignorant if you want to be.  But there is no place in any official government position for the Confederate flag because of its history & the not so subtle “you’re not welcome here” message it sends to our African American citizens.  Furthermore, as another wise friend of mine pointed out, being proud of being Southern does NOT mean you have to embrace the Confederate flag.  There are plenty of other things about Southern culture to embrace to show your cultural pride if you feel so inclined.  (I have very mixed feelings about the South myself, but that’s another post for another day.)Marriage-12-15-10-web

As far as the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, frankly it baffles my mind how anyone can still be opposed to homosexuality.  I have not heard ONE good argument for why homosexuality is wrong.  Ever.  And saying the Bible says so (ambiguously, I might add) is NOT a good argument.  Even if you think it is, there is still not a good argument for why gay marriage is discriminating against Christians or anyone else who believes it is wrong.  gay-marriage-flowchart

As a Libertarian, I don’t believe private organizations like churches should be forced to marry anyone they don’t want to marry.  That’s fine.  I respect that even if I completely disagree with their reasoning.  Hell, there are churches that would have refused to marry me & my husband because we lived together before we were married.  As crazy as I think that is, I still support their right to do so as a PRIVATE organization.  But I see no good argument whatsoever for why gay marriage should actually be ILLEGAL in this (or any other) country.  When I see pictures of my gay/lesbian friends on Facebook with their lovers/husbands/wives, I feel nothing but happiness for them, today especially.  End of story.supreme court

There really isn’t a focused point to this post.  The last thing I want to do is stir up arguments & debates.  I don’t have the energy for that right now, mentally, physically, or emotionally.  But for my own sanity, I just needed to write to clear my brain a bit because I’m so frustrated & angry at the lack of empathy I see around me right now.  We can be better than this, people.  We really can.

I’m out of even half way eloquent words right now, so I’ll end this post with a link to the video for a song I discovered this week that could not possibly be more relevant right now.  The lyrics are in the video, but you can also read them below the link: Christ Copyright by Nothing More

Nothing More, an awesome rock band out of TX whose music I was lucky enough to discover this week

Nothing More, an awesome rock band out of TX whose music I was lucky enough to discover this week

Don’t form thoughts, trust politicians
Forfeit soul, pursue religion
Lose free will to gain protection
Sink the ship with good intention

See our minds become conditioned
As we swear by these traditions
Lose our hearts & breed division
Oh my God, why can’t we wake up?

They’re selling heaven tonight
Sign on the dotted line
They got your Christ on copyright

To think you know who goes to heaven
Is just one big misconception
Like God hates fags & communism
Create fear to feed the system

They’re selling heaven tonight
Sign on the dotted line
They got your Christ on copyright

We are not machines

If they scream loud
They might muscle the crowd
But we won’t bow down
No, we won’t bow down

They’re selling heaven tonight
Sign on the dotted line
They got your Christ on copyright

On Sexual Harassment From Strangers


I decided to go to the gym this afternoon & on the way there I realized my gas tank was on E, so I stopped to fill it.  There I was, innocently pumping gas, when some nitwit comes up behind me & calls out to me.  Naturally I turned around thinking maybe the man needed directions or something.  Instead he proceeds to leer at me & say “Does your husband know how lucky he is?  If not, there’s a bunch of men who could get you.”  I was so completely taken by surprise that my only response was to flippantly say “Have a nice day” & walk (read: run) away.'BOY that REALLY makes my skin crawl when MEN undress you with their eyes!...'

I spent the next 5-10 minutes hyperventilating & driving a somewhat circuitous route to the gym just to ensure that I wasn’t being followed (thankfully I wasn’t).  When I parked at the gym, I sat in my car in tears wondering once again if I have a sign on my forehead, of which I’m blissfully unaware, which reads something along the lines of “I’m so innocent & trusting.  Please take advantage of me!”  But the fact of the matter is crap like this happens all the time to women all over the world.  My female friends who are reading this are surely nodding along in agreement because many, nay, most of them, have told me similar stories of creepy strangers who have made similar disturbing remarks to them.  And worse yet, some have even been physically assaulted.

When stories like this are told, many jump to asking “Well, what were you wearing?” as if that were somehow relevant.  Let me be the first to say that such information isn’t the least bit germane to the conversation at hand, considering Channing Tatum could be pumping gas in nothing but his boxers & 99.99% of women would never dream of coming up to him & asking “Does your wife know how lucky she is?  If not there are plenty of women who could get you.”  The point is no matter what a woman (or man) is wearing (or not wearing), no one has the right to treat her (or him) with disrespect.

And just in case anyone reading this feels like railing against the younger generation & saying we have no respect for anyone, let me be clear in stating that today’s creeper, along most every other man who’s ever harassed me in a similar fashion, was at least in his 40s, if not considerably older.respect 1

Let me also be clear in saying that I am not one of these women who thinks every man who says hello to them or touches them in any way is harassing them.  Indeed, I once got asked out at the gym, but I in no way found that intimidating or rude because it was done in a nice, respectful manner.  I’ll admit it made me a little uncomfortable but only because it reminded me that I am in fact not invisible at the gym as I usually wish I were.

Now that all of that is out of the way, let me move on with my narrative . . .enough is enough

This isn’t a treatise against men.  Indeed I’m incredibly thankful for the many wonderful men in my life, from my loving husband to my father, grandfather, & many other male friends & family members whom I feel blessed to know.  But I can’t let something like this happen to me without saying something.  I refuse to live my life thinking of every man as a potential rapist or harasser, & yet I know that men like the one I unfortunately encountered today take advantage of the fact that so many women like me operate under the assumption “innocent until proven guilty.”  (This is not to say I invite strange men into my house.  Indeed, I almost never open the door to solicitors when my husband isn’t home.  I just mean that I generally assume the best of people until shown otherwise.)  And sadly most women placed in situations like mine today react in much the same way I did: we’re too flabbergasted to come up with a response that sufficiently puts the creeper in his place.  While we should be telling them we’re not pieces of meat to be acquired, most of us are too stunned to say much of anything at all.

This is mostly a joke, but there's some truth in it too.

This is mostly a joke, but there’s some truth in it too.

I consider myself to be a fairly strong, independent woman.  I have a good career, financial stability (even without my husband’s salary), & a good head on my shoulders.  And yet situations like today make me acutely aware of just how vulnerable I really am.  Despite the fact that I work out quite a bit & am definitely stronger than the average woman, the simple truth is that even guys half my age could easily beat me up if they really wanted to.  It happens much more often than I like to admit that I get off a machine at the gym thinking how awesome it is that I was able to do 50 lbs or whatever when I used to only be able to do 20 lbs, only to watch some scrawny thirteen year old boy hop on the machine & pop out 75 or 100 lbs like it’s nothing.  It’s just biology, that’s all.men-vs-women1

If you’re a man who is reading this post, you’re probably already the type who is far too respectful to ever consider approaching a woman the way this man approached me today.  Yet I can’t help but ask that men consider what it’s like for us as women in a world in which we are clearly the more vulnerable half of the population.

Let me be clear: this is not a pity party I’m throwing.  I’m not asking for your sympathy.  Only for your empathy.  Situations like today make me realize how difficult it must be for all the good men in the world because the creepers of the world are giving your gender a bad name.  If I’m capable of being empathetic towards men even after being so unceremoniously harassed today, I think it’s not too much to ask that we raise our sons to respect women & treat us like the human beings we are.empathy

Here’s what I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say to the asshole who felt it necessary to intimidate me today:
“Yes, my husband knows exactly how lucky he is to be with me, just as I know how lucky I am to be with him.  Additionally, I am not some piece of meat or object to be acquired.  My husband did not “get” me.  I chose to be with him because I wanted to be with him just as much as he wanted to be with me.  On behalf of the other innocent women of the world whom I’m sure you’ve similarly disrespected, let me be clear in saying you’re a miserable, disgusting wanker who needs to get the hell out of my way . . . On that note, have a nice day!”