Every so often, I get caught up in the moment. I can forget why I became a nurse.
For the past few years, my career has been in “learning mode.” Not too long ago, I became a student for the fourth time and began the journey to become a nurse practitioner. Four years, two degrees and one national certification later, I accomplished my goal.
Six months into this new role, and I’m having a difficult time prying myself away from “learning mode” and back into “affect mode.”
I’ve gotten caught up, if not buried, by the monitors, medicines and mechanics of healthcare. I’ve been so preoccupied with hopping over the virtual fence of balancing my new role (as an ACNP) evenly among the professional boundaries of nursing versus medicine that I started to lose the forest for the trees.
Then, just like many other moments in the career of a nurse, a patient and their care grounded me.
Sadly, death has become commonplace in my career over the years. Caring for the critically ill yields a higher than average morbidity and mortality rate among my patients due to the nature of their care.
It was those first few patient’s deaths that I still remember. I’ve never forgotten the time a patient died and how helpless I felt caring.
The patient was a long-time smoker and had severe lung disease. He had experienced multiple episodes of respiratory failure, with numerous exacerbations that required extended episodes on mechanical ventilation.
He had had enough. No more intubations. No more life-saving measures. Just keep him comfortable. Let nature take its course.
No matter what I did for that patient, I could not achieve any acceptable level of comfort in my eyes. He was always struggling for air…always. No amount of medication, no amount of repositioning and no amount of empathy helped him breathe easier.
In the end, he died simply because he was too tired to breathe.
And all I could do was sit with him.
Recently, I was reminded of that first experience. No amount of high-tech monitoring, no amount of cutting-edge medicine and no amount of mechanical force can replace just being present for another human being.
Another human being.
In the end, that’s what we are charged with doing. Being there for another human being.
Thanks to a wonderful patient, I haven’t forgotten that.