When I was a brand new nurse I ran into my preceptor in the nursing school. I’d never seen her not in scrubs before, but she was wearing a flowery little dress, and she was nervous about turning in a five page paper. She who could stop someone’s brain from herniating through the hole at the bottom of their skull! She who held down an agitated 28 year old fireman with a huge bleed in his brain, whose body was so fragile now and so dependent on the tubes and lines that his thrashing threatened to destroy, saying “buddy” in his ear to soothe him.
That patient was the first one who made me cry, when his brawny friend said a prayer over him before leaving the room. He had sat talking to the unconscious fireman for an hour, updating him about friends, the football team, telling him about a big fire they had conquered. A conversation with a single low voice, seemingly oblivious to anything being wrong, until finally he stood up and said, “Well, you know me, I’m gonna pray for you now…”
I was embarrassed when the tears sprung into my eyes, all of a sudden, and I turned away, towards the window.
The last one who made me cry was a developmentally and physically disabled young man. A boy. I drew up a pink mix of liquids and crushed pills to push through his PEG tube, and pre-empted the question I saw in his mom’s watchful eyes, naming all the meds.
“Didn’t he already have his phenobarb? This morning.”
“Yes. They ordered an extra dose to give now. Because his level is low.”
“Don’t you dare give him an extra dose of phenobarb!” She jumped up and shook her fist at me. “Why are you messing with his phenobarb! I don’t care about a level! You don’t touch his meds!”
She kept yelling at me, even as I said okay, I won’t give it to him, I’ll go and make sure, even as I left the room and walked to the NP and told her the mom was refusing the phenobarb. I went back in. I told her again I wasn’t giving it, and got new doses of the other meds. I wasn’t upset. I didn’t take it personally. The mom kept yelling at me, now to explain why she was yelling, and I wanted her to know that I understood. “Don’t be angry at me!” she cried.
“I’m not angry. It’s okay. I know you’re upset. But I need you to stop yelling at me so I can take care of him.” My hands were on my hips.
The epilepsy NP stormed into the room and yelled at the boy’s mother. “Okay, you’re going to manage his care? Who’s managing his care? Let me do my job! Let her do her job! Don’t yell at her, don’t you yell at her!” These two older women had known each other for years and years, caring for the boy.
Later, the mom hugged me and apologized. She was upset that the boy was so sleepy, and she wanted the EEG leads off of his head, she wanted to take him home. In the afternoon he woke up a little, and played Dora on his iPad. “I love mom,” he said. They always run out and tell you.
At the end of the day, as I stood over him again, with his pale abdomen stretched out between us, his mom said, “He was well until he was four, you know.”
I looked up at her. “Then he started having the seizures.”
I only nodded. “He was the smartest, nicest little kid.”
“Show her a picture. You don’t carry a picture?” This was her friend, a visitor.
“I can’t. I can’t do that.”
This made me cry. It was the mom. My hands were busy, and I didn’t have anything to say, but I met her eyes.
“Are you crying? Did I make you cry?”
“Yeah. You made me cry.”
It made them happy.