I love working in the ER. I really do. The chaos, loud noises, knowledge base required and crazy scenarios are what I most enjoy. Sometimes, though, I feel like I don't quite get the opportunity to interact with patients on a basic level. Sure, I can give them pain meds and talk while I'm assessing their mangled leg and reassure family members before we do a conscious sedation to reset that mangled leg...but in all the craziness it just isn't possible to give as much time to each patient as I would like to.
So the other night, when it was shockingly slow - only four patients in the ED for more than an hour - my attention wandered to the patient belonging to another nurse. I had overheard the staff talking earlier; apparently this patient was related to one of the more prominent administrative peeps in the hospital, and they just didn't know how else to help her. This patient also had severe, advanced early-onset Alzheimer's. The patient was waiting for a social work consult in the morning - but even though she had been reminded of that many times, the patient had no idea she was waiting for that social work consult. She also happened to have been PC'ed by the doc, so security was sitting with her.
Since it was the wee hours of the night, and dementia robs people of the ability to critically think or analyze a situation logically or even remember what situation they are thinking about in the first place, she was starting to get very anxious. She started pacing back and forth, going from bed to chair to doorway and back. Security kept getting gruff with her, telling her to sit down and stay on the bed.
Now this lady had been in the ER for 8 hours already...I'd be pacing too. She kept getting more anxious, and security kept getting shorter with her. Her primary nurse happens to be someone I like personally but detest as a nurse - she is lazy, preoccupied, and would rather go take a smoke break than talk to her patients. The primary had also been complaining about this dementia patient, since her agitation was preventing a long and relaxed lunch break. So when the lady wandered to the doorway for the umpteenth time, I walked up to her.
"I have to get out of here! It's so late, and my husband just died and I don't know what to do..." She rambled and paced, so I offered to take her for a walk.
And we did.
We circled the pod hallway at least ten times. How else to comfort someone whose husband has actually been dead for a decade, yet who is experiencing the grief as if it were new? After a dozen laps, I asked if she wanted to do another. "No, I think I want to go lay down," she said.
And she did.
She went to sleep for the next three hours, until change of shift. She woke up when dayshift staff came out, and so I went back up to her to let her know about the social worker coming in soon. She climbed out of bed and gave me a hug, and started crying. "Thank you, and please tell my husband that I'll be home soon," she said. "And also, you smell very nice."
I am glad for this slow night, for the chance to be able to be there for someone. I didn't need nursing school to do what I did. It required no critical thinking, no med knowledge, and no IV skills. I didn't titrate a drip, or do an EKG, or keep an eye on the cardiac monitor. But I think it made a difference to that lady, just having someone who was there for her, to hold her hand. And that felt real great. I felt more like a nurse in that short time than I have in the past few weeks. Even though, in six hours, she will forget I ever existed.
And let's be real...it's always nice to be told you smell good.