I posted my reports out of order. Friday's was actually supposed to be today's, and vice versa. Mea maxima culpa, and also whatever dude.
Started out this morning with a couple of sweet pts—my first day back since Tiberius died. I was kind of hoping for a pair of raucous assholes I could joke around with and care for without working too hard; instead I got two cute tiny old folks, both with Parkinson’s, both with lung cancer.
One had undergone a right mid-and-lower lobectomy, leaving him with nothing of his right lung but the upper lobe. The other had undergone chemo, had a really rough time of it, and then come back for her checkup to find that the cancer had spread quickly, after which she developed a UTI and sepsis. The former will be going home in a few days—the surgery was successful. The latter will also be going home in a few days—antibiotics will have her comfortable enough to enjoy her remaining months at home.
The lobectomy pt had a little extra challenge to face. He’s orthostatic at home: when he sits or stands up quickly, his body can’t keep his blood pressure steady, and he faints. He fell a month ago and broke a small bone in his foot, requiring him to wear an immobilizer boot whenever he gets up to walk. Not that he was walking far; the previous shift had tried to take him for a walk down the hall, and he had made it as far as the med cabinet before his eyes rolled back in his head and he dropped like a rock. His chest tube made it even trickier to mobilize him, since it drained into a big square box called an atrium that had to be carried along everywhere he went.
And he really wanted to walk around. His pain was well-controlled with an epidural in his back, which numbed him from nipples to liver, preventing him from feeling the full impact of the huge surgery. Pain control is crucial in major thoracotomies like this one—I think Tiberius had an epidural too, immediately after his pneumonectomy and before things went south—because, as with cardiac surgery pts, this pt population is at huge risk of death if they lie still for too long. They need the pulmonary hygiene of coughing, which is almost impossible to manage if you’re in agony every time you breathe in; they need the blood-pumping action of muscles massaging their legs’ veins to return the blood to their hearts; they need to be able to breathe deeply, so their lungs don’t collapse, and the volume of air you breathe in declines sharply when you’re in bed all day.
None of these things are particularly compatible with a fresh open chest. If you’ve ever cracked a rib, you know what I’m talking about: fighting the urge to cough, breathing in sips and whispers, cursing your significant other like the Nosferatu because he strolled through the room and made a stupid pun and you laughed unexpectedly.
I cracked a rib about a year ago because I was at the pub for Drink & Draw with a bunch of my artist friends, and was invited by one of them—a massive Hawaiian man whose job is an even split between “draw monsters for video games” and “travel around the world giving workshops on how to draw monsters for video games,” both of which are hard-drinkin’ jobs—to help him finish off some shots that a group of art students had bought for him. I am an inveterate lightweight who gets a little woozy after a couple glasses of wine, so it was deeply stupid of me to take him up on his offer. At some point I asked him if people tried to fight him in bars, and joked that I (one hundred twenty-five pounds of hair and freckles) should totally fight him sometime. He responded by picking me up in a bear hug, which cracked my rib. He was very sorry and expressed disbelief that anybody could break that easily; I was very sorry and expressed a lot of vomit and groaning.
Anyway. This dude had to walk if at all possible. With fear and trembling we propped him up on the edge of the bed, and let him sit there for a while, reminding him over and over that he needed to wait to stand up until his body caught up with its new position. A few false starts later, and we propped him up on the cardiac walker—its big elbow cushions make it easy to walk with, and staff are known to rest their forearms on it and dangle their feet to help relax their spines during a hard shift. Heck, I like to lean on it and sail down the hallway, propelling myself with gentle taps of the toes, scaring the piss out of the CNAs and smacking into the medicine cabinets as I go. (This only happens in the late afternoon, when things have calmed down a bit.)
On the walker, he made it out into the hallway and down the hall before he turned white, slumped sideways, and said: “Leave me alone, I feel fine.” His eyes stayed open, but his head sagged and his knees wobbled. The charge nurse came running up, pushing a rolling recliner she’d snagged from a nearby room. “I ain’t sittin down,” said the gentleman as he slowly toppled, trailing his chest tube behind him.
“Sir, you’re passing out,” I said, trying to maneuver his swerving backside into the recliner while bending around the walker and juggling the chest tube atrium. “Please, sit down.”
“I feel fine,” he repeated. He was definitely staying awake, but his body was absolutely done with this standing-up bullshit.
“You look like a package of used hot dogs,” I said. “Sit the hell down.”
He started laughing, which I guess was too much for him, because he lost consciousness and slumped back (mostly) into the recliner like a sack of wet bricks. Thirty seconds later, as his body caught up with the change, he came back to… still laughing. “Hot dogs,” he said. “Hot dawgs. This girl’s a pistol, bang bang.”
I’ve had worse compliments. Once a pt told me: “I’d marry you, honey, but you’re a bitch from hell.” Still a little heartbroken over that one. But I have to agree with him.
His chest tube had kinked off when he flopped over on it, and the pressure differential had him feeling a little stuffy by the time we got him back in his room. I straightened the tube and hooked the atrium up to wall suction, and he gave a little start as a huge bubble slurped from the tube through the water seal. “Whatna hell was that,” he barked.
“Well, sir… your chest farted.”
More laughter. “Does your mama know bout your mouth?”
I assured him that my mother was a good, upstanding Baptist woman who would rather not know about my mouth, locked the chair brakes, and went to the break room to open palm slam a cup of coffee and two ibuprofen for my unhappy back.
I try to take care of my back. Lots of nurses get hurt and end up on disability. Back injuries build up over time and then suddenly seem to happen all at once, and I don’t want to end up slipping a disk mid-turn. I use the equipment at hand, follow strict body mechanics protocols, and am shameless about demanding help from other staff. Still, nursing is a high-contact sport, and sometimes you just throw yourself between someone else and the floor.
I’m not always funny, either. Sometimes I hit a charming, exhausted zone where my filters are down and the words fly fast, but shortly after that I turn into a blathering mule who can’t get three words out in a row. Panic increases my chances of witticism; exhaustion makes me sound clever. People are often surprised that I can tell a quippy story with a solid punch line and then be asleep before everyone is done laughing.
So I tell people about black holes. They come from supermassive stars, I tell them: huge flaming whirling nightmares so massive that hydrogen is crushed into iron at their cores. At last each one collapses under its own weight, crushing itself into nothing, waves and particles of radiation squirting out of its terrible fist at every crack and seam. And just as the star reaches the point of no return, ripping through space-time itself, swirling into the inescapable singularity, an enormous gout of brilliant blue light pours out, scouring everything in its path with searing, perfect illumination: Cherenkov blue.
That’s me, right before I collapse. I get tired, groggy, lazy; then, for a few moments, I am brilliant and clever and unstoppable and incisive; then I am lying on the break room sofa in a puddle of my own drool.
Anyway. I digress, boringly.
My other pt, the one who will go home on comfort care, is loopy as a rabbit in the grass. She is also deaf as a loaf of bread. She has hearing aids, which she hates wearing, and I don’t blame her because they scream constantly from the feedback hell of being turned up to max and shoved into her wax-plastered brain-holes. She grimaces and nods and looks completely confused while you try to talk to her, and the whole time there’s this distant metallic squeal like robots fucking. She is, however, so cute I can hardly stand it.
She keeps saying these things that sound like complete wacko non sequiturs, that make sense a few minutes later in context. She was cold, so I brought her a blanket from the warmer, one with blue stripes on it. She declined it: “Not with the red! I’m not a traitor!” Okaaaaaay. She did have a big red allergy bracelet on. I got her another blanket, one with no stripes, which she accepted.
A little later her family arrived, and as I relayed this story to them, they nodded sagely. “Of course,” they said, “those are XXXX University colors, and she cheers for XXXX State.”
I mean, I like football. I hated it when I lived in Texas, where football is a religion and the weather during football season is the best evidence we’ll ever have of God’s wrath, but since I moved to Seattle I’ve learned to enjoy it. (Something about how obnoxious and balls-out gleeful the fans are, and also about how Richard Sherman was fucking hot even before he opened his gorgeous mouth and a whole higher education drifted out of it like a fleet of sexy butterflies. Pardon me, I’m going to have a drink of water now.) I am the worst possible kind of football fan, and I still don’t think I could maintain that level of team spirit while slowly dying in a hospital bed.
We got her up to the chair for a while—yes, we ICU beasts have a total obsession with mobilizing our pts—and then had trouble getting her back into bed a few hours later, during shift change as I passed her off to the next nurse. Fortunately the oncoming guy was strong and good-spirited, and we wrestled her back into bed without dropping her somehow, even when she wobbled and her knees went completely limp. “The black-eyed ones always did that to me,” she quavered as we tucked her in. “Weak in the knees.” I was halfway home before I realized she was talking about the night nurse, who is a genuinely attractive young man with lots of muscles who quite literally swept her off her feet.
My lobectomy pt transferred up to telemetry immediately after that, keeping me late to give report to the upstairs nurse. I stressed the importance of taking things VERY SLOWLY with him, and told the whole grisly story of his afternoon walk. “Are you sure he’s tele status,” protested the nurse, and I don’t blame her, because nobody wants a pt who can turn into a floppy lump at a moment’s notice.
“Yeah,” I said. “Bye!”
I am a dick. Sorry, folks, that you have to know that about me.
(Generally speaking, orthostatic hypotension isn’t a reason to keep a pt on the ICU, especially if they’re orthostatic at baseline and need exercise to get moving again, which the tele floors are better at administering since ICU is focused on early mobility. It would have been very bad form, and dangerous to the pt, for me to pass him off without explaining how serious his orthostatic hypotension could be, but I honestly didn’t have time to coax the upstairs nurse into recognizing all this.)
As I left, they were already moving a new pt in, a tiny little lady who screamed and thrashed and hit everyone within reach. Her daughter stood in the hallway, dancing from foot to foot in that telltale hand-to-breastbone posture of a family member who is going to be ridiculously anxious the whole time. I will bet you one US dollar that I get that pt in the morning, and that she hits me.
Maybe I can jinx her into being a perfect doll.