Just Look...

Just Look...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

To the ICU Nurse, A Beautiful Character in So Many Stories

Dear ICU Nurse,

I hope it doesn't offend you, but until very recently, I didn't think about you very much. To be honest, I was relatively unaware of your existence. You are one of those people who aren't really at the top of the list when it comes to "People I Hope I'm In a Situation to Get to Meet". However, you are now on the top of my "Just Exactly the Perfect People for their Job" list...

I can't imagine what it must take to do your job. You encounter families at their most vulnerable, meet patients at their most broken. Many of your patients aren't even in a responsive state and visiting hours are few, so your job is a very lonely one. There are only two endings for patients in your care and neither involve much positive affirmation for you. In my job, I get visits from former students and am able to watch them grow and succeed. Your patients either don't make it at all or they move to a regular room and I suspect families are so eager to see improvement, it's doubtful they linger long to thank you or visit later.

Your job is also one of hyper-vigilance. You don't get the option of a "day off while still at work", a day to just go through the motions. If you slack or daydream or don't pay close attention, a person could die. That is quite a burden to carry.  If you're like most people in service professions, you connect to people. There are likely days and nights when you are at home, worrying and wondering about different patients in your care. I bet there are heart-breaking cases where you know the patient has no support system, no visitors, no one who is wishing them home.

During our ICU experience, I noticed your gentleness and kindness not only with your patients, but with their families. We tried not to be "that family" but I know you sensed our desperation as we asked you question after question regarding Grandmother's care and prognosis. We were often asking you to do the impossible, or at least the job of the doctor, and predict the future. We knew in our heads that you couldn't promise us any sort of outcome, but in our hearts we knew you wished you could as well. You just had a sense of when to be close and when to give us space. You turned a blind eye to the restrictions on number of visitors, seeming to understand that we all drew comfort from the presence of the others and wanted to milk every possible moment of time with Grandmother that we could get. You brought extra blankets when we mentioned that her feet felt cool, even though you probably knew she was comfortable. The blankets were ultimately for our own comfort. You lingered near when various family members had questions about care and you gave us distance when we held each other and cried. I saw you close your eyes one dark night as we gathered around her bedside and prayed. And to the older male nurse who, seeing us try to hold the door open for three frightened children to try and catch a glimpse of Grandmother, waving furiously, as she strained to see them and glean a little bit of hope, asked their ages and quickly ushered them all in for a quick hug and visit-- you honestly may have provided the turning point in her recovery.

Your patience with my grandfather as he vacillated from almost frantic hope, continually predicting that she would be home by the weekend, to low moments of despair was beautiful. You listened to him do the only thing he could do at that point... tell the details of their lives together and the stories of our family. You listened, and you didn't act like you had somewhere else to be, or you had heard the same things at the last visiting hours, or that he needed patronizing. You listened like he needed you in that moment as much as your patient, and you know what? He did.

I am in awe of your calling. You are capable and compassionate and courageous. You operate machines that hold human life in the balance, yet you also stroke an elderly hand and put warm socks on cold feet. You watch life return to broken bodies, but probably just as often, you stand guard as it leaves. You carry all that, watch the monitors, smile at the visiting families, and encourage your patients. I am so grateful you were there for our family in our time of trauma, and I pray that you are refreshed and renewed daily, given a supernatural strength to keep pressing forward. You are a beautiful character in so many stories.

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