Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Watch Out What You Wish For

About a year ago, I was beginning my new life as a nurse. I'd struggled for two years to go to nursing school-- struggled financially, struggled to balance school, work and time with my family, and worked hard to plow through a nursing program that packed a whole bunch of school into two years.

My wife got laid off right about the time I started nursing school, adding another challenge to the process. I worried that my kids would feel like they missed time with me during that time, but they told me emphatically that they never felt that way. I have a feeling that the fact that whenever they had a board game night, I was almost never too tired to play (okay, I was, but I never forgot that I would never get that time with them back, and toughed it out).

I remember back around this time last year, how exhausted, frustrated and sometimes downright scared I was. I was struggling to master dialysis nursing. As someone who has been terrified of needles my whole life, putting two 15-gauge needles into someone to do their dialysis (think "needle about the size of medium sized knitting needle" size). I had to be able to spot when someone was in trouble medically, sometimes before I started treatment. I remember wishing, right about mid-December, that it was a year from then, and that I'd gotten a year in, and had all these skills.

And here I am.

I had a really difficult day at work-- it didn't even have anything to do with working Christmas Day. I had a really difficult patient who had a rather difficult "fistula" (an artery and vein hooked together through surgery to give an access to do dialysis with those 15-gauge needles I mentioned). He was also a general pain in the ass. And yet, I was able to "cannulate" him, and got him to sit still for 2 hours (of what should have been three and a half hours) of treatment.

I also had another patient go into respiratory arrest. I spotted it quickly and responded quickly. I returned her blood and called a "code." In  this case it was a "code purple"-- she had a pulse but had stopped breathing. My heart was pounding, but I stayed calm, quickly returning her blood and calling the code. It's weird hearing your voice god-like through a whole hospital.

The latter patient was revived, but about an hour later, as I was talking to the doctor who responded to the code, I suddenly heard the telemetry machine stop beeping; I pointed this out to the doctor, who looked puzzled. I had to spell it out-- "Doctor, I think we need to call another code." He agreed. This time it was a "code blue." Her heart had stopped. The "crash team" poured back into the room and went back to work. This time, they were unable to revive her. She had expired.

As I sit writing this, sipping a glass of red wine, with satellite radio playing the "Handsome Dick Manitoba" radio show, thinking about it all, I realize that I made every play correctly today. Most importantly, I stayed calm in an extremely stressful situation. I remembered everything I'd learned. I did everything correctly. A year in, I'm where I wished I'd be. It wasn't an easy day. As always, you have to watch out what you wish for. But this is the life I chose. And I'm glad I chose it.