Adjusting Emotionally

I’ve experienced more emotions in the 8 months of being an ER nurse, then I have in my entire 37 years of living. I love being in the ER, it’s definitely my home as a nurse, and  someday I dream of working in a busy trauma unit. However, I’m still learning how to adjust emotionally in the ER.

I try so hard to leave the strong emotions I feel at the hospital, when I leave at night. But, more often than not, I arrive home, drink wine while I go through events of the day in my mind, fall asleep, and wake up at 2am thinking about the events all over again.

My emotions are vast. I’ve witnessed death a few times, and cared for very sick patient’s in my short work as an ER nurse.

When I was a floor nurse, I never saw death. They came to us from the ER, mostly stable. And, even if they didn’t have long to live, they always made it to Hospice on time. Yes, I had to be there for the family. Yes, there were tears. Yes, I witnessed sadness, but it was only occasional.

The ER is a much different environment. When patient’s come in critical, sometimes they leave for the morgue, medical examiner’s office, or on a vent headed to ICU in which their brain is dead, but their heart still pumps. Every patient must first pass through the ER, prior to heading home, going upstairs or to ICU, or traveling to the morgue.

I’m frequently assigned to one of our trauma rooms, especially lately.

I feel honored, and emotionally weak at the same time, when dealing with the really critical or sick patients.

On Father’s Day, I experienced my first young death. He came to us unresponsive, and the medics pounded on his chest as they rapidly wheeled him into the trauma room assigned to me. He was young, just a bit over 50. He was found in his car, and appeared to be healthy and fit. As his body rhythmically bounced to the beat of the medic’s compressions, the ER doc started an EJ line. We gave epinephrine, atropine, sodium bicarb, and fluids. We stopped for a pulse check, and still he remained in asystole. We tried more epi., and meds, and still nothing. We worked for a while, before we finally called “time of death”. All kinds of thoughts flooded my mind, as the two police officers sat charting in the overly bright,  and no longer sterile trama room littered with IV tubing and supplies, lab tubes, open packages of meds from the code cart, syringes, a spinal board, and more. It resembled a dirty mechanics garage. The two kind police officers, were obviously skilled in dealing with death, as they methodically typed away on their laptops, and went through proper procedures. I think they could sense the look of sadness, distress, and question in my eyes, as I wondered many things…Is her married? Does he have kids? Crap, it’s Father’s Day….does he have kids? What happened? 

It only became harder, as suddenly I heard a woman screaming and crying as she rushed into his room.

She poured herself on top of him, hysterically crying to the point of hyperventilation, and questioned her motionless man, “How could you leave me? Why didn’t you wake me? We were supposed to die old together!” Then she begged him, “Please come back to me. Please come back.” Her hands shaked, she sobbed like I’ve never heard before, in that deep gut wrenching manner. I could barely keep my emotions intact, and had to walk out to get myself together several times. I stayed with her for two hours, making phone calls to family members, and playing secretary for any incoming calls. That was hard, but I had to be strong for her. I did cry with her. I passed her endless amounts of tissues, gave her many hugs, escorted family members into the room, and still made time for all the charting and arrangements that needed to be done. Then one of his daughter’s walked in, right before his body was escorted to the medical examiner’s office.  All of the emotions started back up again, right as I began to get myself under control.

Several times, I had to stop my brain from entering the door labeled, “What if that was my man or my dad.” I thanked god for my husband, and dad on that Father’s Day, because this poor family had just lost their husband and father, on what should have been a day of celebration.

I’ve also witnessed a young man, less then 35 years old, arrive to us after a cosmetic procedure went bad. His brain never survived, even though we barely managed to start his heart pumping again, and a week later he was gone. He had a full life ahead of him, and zero medical problems, and yet his life was now complete, at an age younger than mine.

Then just last week, a sweet young lady arrived with her husband, complaining of a breast wound that ended up being stage 4 cancer. The lump she ignored grew bigger and bigger, eventually eating away at her breast, and creating a nice necrotic wound. Her husband nearly passed out, as the doctor gave them the news. She knew she should’ve had it checked, but she didn’t want to face her fears. She apologized to her husband repeatedly for not telling him about it, and not getting it checked out, as she watched him hold his head in his hands, in disbelief. They looked at me, with a multitude of questions, and  I couldn’t answer everything for them. They hoped I’d tell them that everything was going to be ok, but I couldn’t say that.  I felt so sad for them, and wished I could turn back the clock, to a day in which she could address this little lump, when it was in infantile form.

These are only a few of the sad stories I’ve encountered while working in the ER.

Sometimes, I don’t know how to handle the leftover emotions from a busy day at work. Writing here helps. Talking with nurse friends helps (thanks to all of you who let me cry, vent, and share). Talking with my hairstylist Cortney helps…she’s such a great listener, and she likes hearing my stories. Wine helps. A few days off, heals the soul. Time with my family, and time on the boat really helps (that’s my favorite time).

I’m certain of one thing, being a nurse is what I was designed to do. Yes, the stories I mentioned above were hard  to handle, but I was the right person in each scenario. Even my fellow co-workers have said, “I’m so glad they had you by their side.” It’s bittersweet, because even though I feel sad sometimes, and encounter many emotions, I also feel grateful and honored to be the person that someone else can look to for care, concern, empathy, a shoulder to cry on, and a listening ear.

I’m strong, and  I’ll become stronger each shift and with each encounter.

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