Did you read it? — “A letter to the family of my ICU patient”

iStock | Dean Mitchell

iStock | Dean Mitchell

It can be difficult for patients and their loved ones to relate to ICU nurses. For those just passing through, the ICU is a terrifying place, a sign that a worst nightmare has indeed become a reality. And yet, that same place that people so fear is an ICU nurse’s second home, the staff their second family, just as any workplace might be for a dedicated and passionate professional.

That’s not to say, however, that an ICU nurse is desensitized. Yes, ICU nurses live and breathe exceptionally tragic circumstances, but that does not translate into indifference. Unfortunately, there are times when a patient’s friends and family are unable to ascertain the difference.

In a powerful open letter published by The Huffington Post, one ICU nurse responds to the common misconception that nurses are drained of empathy, ultimately painting a truer picture of nurses, both ICU and otherwise, in the process:

Working in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is an experience that can’t quite be put into words. It’s fast-paced, intense, and the stress of some situations can even occasionally make my own heart rate go up as high as one of our trauma patients.

Some people love us. Some people hate us. I can promise you that you do not want to be a patient in my unit. If you are, then that means you’re really sick. But I can also promise you that if you end up here, you will get stellar care by a team of the best healthcare providers available.

Often times we may act a little wacky, though. We may seem rude at times. Maybe you catch us acting totally inappropriate for the situation at hand. Maybe you’ve even thought, “How can they act that way with all this going on with my family member?”

Well, we have our reasons. Following is a letter to the families of ICU patients everywhere.

Dear Disenchanted Family Member of My ICU Patient,

So you walked in to me singing a song out loud as I hung that IV medicine, huh? You were a little bewildered, and thought, “Is that from The Sound of Music? Why is she so inappropriately jolly considering my dad has a tube down his throat?!”

First off, it is The Sound of Music. After all, these are a few of my favorite things.

But seriously, I’m not singing for my own satisfaction. What you don’t realize is I’m singing to calm my nerves, to keep myself relaxed. Your dad almost died before I let you back. I’m concerned for him, but I don’t want you to see that on my face. I don’t want you to worry about him. That’s my job. I just want you to love him.

I know you just heard us laughing and cracking a joke in the hall. I get it. You don’t see anything funny with your mom being confined to that bed, attached to all those monitors.

I understand. I do. I hope you can understand that while you were waiting outside, unaware, we saved the young woman next door. She couldn’t breathe. Now she can. We didn’t think we’d get the breathing tube down in time….

We also restarted the heart of the man across the hall. We shocked him so many times, and I actually broke his ribs. Just when we were afraid it wouldn’t restart, it did.

Want to read the rest of the article? You can find it here. Just don’t forget to share your own thoughts with us in the comments section below.


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4 Responses to Did you read it? — “A letter to the family of my ICU patient”

  1. Colleen McLeod Mccabe Hubley

    Worked in open heart ICU for 20 years. I feel like I have seen or done most everything but as I learned there’s always something new or different that can or will happen. I always felt very bad for any of the families that were coming in not really knowing what was going on. 13 years ago I had to change my line of work to dialysis and ……most nurses would never consider that line of work but I have found it satisfying and challenging to improve the lives of people who give so much to make it through the week. we all know no one becomes a nurse to get rich or to become famous, but if we all stick together and work together it can have an overwhelming effect on all of us.

  2. MarshaHunterRN

    Over the years I have worked in Med-Surg, OB, Home Health, agency and most recently, addictions. I have to say that while things are not as obviously intense, they still get that way and the ways we cope are pretty consistent in all the specialties I’ve seen in more than 30 years of practice.

  3. Sammi8171

    I’m a newly qualified nurse working in HDU. Everything is new and I’ve been there 6months now so just starting to settle and feel a little calmer about what I manage. Yesterday was not the most hectic or critically acute shifts I’ve worked but by far the saddest. I didn’t cry yesterday I didn’t shed a tear. I helped and hugged more family’s than I ever had in my training in one day. Reading this has completely thrown me. I just sat and cried for a good half hour every bit of pain from yesterday came and got me like i was hot by a speeding car and I can honestly say I feel so so much better for just letting myself feel it. So I wanted to say thank you for sharing and thank you to the icu nurse for writing and reminding me we are human and it’s ok.

  4. mame9871@msn.com

    I worked Peds for about 13 years talk about the emotional stress of ICU we had critical kids. Our hospital did not accept kids as patients in ICU We ad to take all kids Yes I cried often for what I couldn’t do prayed for all “my kids” My own kids would ask about any of their friends that were in for whatever issues they were having. As a retired RN I would not change any of the things I learned and the familys I worked with.