Sunday, April 5, 2009

Saying goodbye to the ER.... again

(Sit Back - Long post ahead - beware, though, I talk of ER and death)
Last Thursday was the final episode of ER after a 15 year long run on TV. I was there for the pilot episode and, despite a couple of years missing, I was there for the final episode.

I hadn't really watched ER for a while, but watching the final episode was like coming back home although a few new family members had moved in.

If you've watched the series over the years, you know the people and the story lines. But I think, as I watched the special 'look back' show and the final episode, my health care career was a bit like Noah Wylie's "Dr. Carter".

If you didn't know, before I was a convention planner, I was in Emergency Room Nursing. My path the the ER took a few different steps out of the ordinary (like my entire life) but it was funny to see the evolution of Dr. Carter in one evening made me see the similarity but also made me very nostalgic for my hospital days. My journey started stumbling and a few "oops" moments in the line of trying to do the right thing.

I started my health care career in Cardiology performing EKG's. It was a job at the hospital I grew up in. One of my first patients in the ER was Miss Daisy Dean Cleveland. She was my first grade teacher and a deeply religious woman. She would be the stereotypical 'Old School Marm' you read about in history. Here I was, in my early twenties, and I'm placing electrodes around this woman's breasts. I was professional, of course, but I could feel my face flaming so hot you could have melted smores on my face. She recognized my embarrassment and talked to me about how proud she was to see one of her students helping people and tried to ease my embarrassment.

After crossing over to the Emergency Room I saw and experienced things John Q. Public only sees on TV. H0wever, believe me, it's nothing like seeing it first hand. I've seen more death in 10 years than I've ever needed to see. After a while you build up a shield to protect yourself. You still care, don't get me wrong, but imagine how you'd feel if you didn't have that callous protection. I didn't realize I needed that protection until I saw the death that still haunts me.

A family was in a car wreck. Parents and 2 children. The youngest daughter was 5 years old. She was one of those patients that far more injured on the inside than the outside. She didn't have any visible blood, but everything inside was broken, and she essentially passed as we moved her onto the ER bed. Her eyes were moving as if she were looking for someone. Her last word "Mommy?" is in my ears all these 22 years later.

I was always very careful with patients when they passed. Some staff become what I consider rough with the deceased since they could not feel. But all I could think of was "Would I want my mom handled that way when she passes?"

When a person is considered dead, or past the point of any help, you can often still find a heartbeat especially if they're hooked up to the heart monitors. We may state a 'time of death' but if the heart was still beating, I felt that the person was, or could still be, still with us. I sometimes would stay with the person, hold their hand, or simply just be there with them until the very end.

With all the barriers and protections I put up in my mind, it was still hard every time someone was lost. However, often times these bad instances were (thankfully) balanced by the positive outcomes. Fore every death, there were more saves. There were also some of the funniest stories I've retold and put into my comedy act. Tune in for another blog post to get some of the funny parts of ER life. :)


Max's Dad said...

Wow. That story of the little girl and her last words made me shiver. I can see how a moment like that would haunt you forever. That was a great post. In all the last years of my Mom's life, I encountered some of the most saintly people on earth (and some complete a-holes) and it always made me want to be them. I'm not, and never will be, but I envy them.

Stephen Rader said...

You're so right. Maybe it shouldn't be "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Maybe it should be "Do unto others as you would have them do unto the ones you love." We'd treat each other a lot gentler if we all lived that way.

SUEB0B said...

Oh you got me all teary. I hope I have someone like you holding my hand when I die!

Lea in SC said...

Great post. I never heard too many of your sad stories...just the funny and gross ones. But you have the heart and compassion to fit an ER nurse. The people you touched were lucky.