I watched four people die this weekend, four people. Sounds horrifying right? Well, it is.
Surely these people must have been sweet little 90 year olds, who lived long happy lives, drifting quietly off into the night surrounded by family they love. Well, that is not my story, in fact, that’s never my story. My story is filled with people who woke up, got dressed, and started their day, just like you and I, having no idea that it would be their last.
The room above looks so benign, shiny and new, full of promise and cutting edge medical equipment, ready for whatever may roll through the doors. Exactly what you would want if you were the one lying in the bed. But, there is much more here than meets the eye. So many things, things that can’t be seen by those who haven’t stood in this place time and time again.
You may wonder what could hide here, what could be lurking behind the glass doors and freshly painted walls. Just what do I see when I look at this place? I see so many things. I see countless hours of hard work, sweat, and tears. I see a floor covered in blood, trash, gloves, and whatever else may land there in the middle of the mess. I hear gut wrenching screams, the indescribable sound of a weeping mother, and the words “time of death” many more times than I care to admit. I hear the pumping of the level one, the hum of a ventilator, slamming drawers, alarming monitors, and the loud sigh of relief when we “get them back.” I see gowns, trauma surgeons, confused patients, ET tubes, code carts, flushed faces, shaking hands, and countless lives, both saved and lost. You see, I have been on both sides of this bed, and I can tell you they are equally terrifying.
You may think that there is no way anyone could find peace here, or that there is any way to see beauty in this mess. To tell you the truth, some days I’m not sure either. Some days I leave defeated, I let the dark win, and I am certain there is no way I can work one more shift. Then, just when I know I can’t step back in that room, something amazing happens. We save a life, one, that’s all it takes, and you know you can pick up the pieces and carry on. I recently cared for a patient with dissecting AAA, scary shit, I don’t care how many times you’ve done it. This man drove himself to the hospital and arrested walking through the triage doors. Incredible timing right? Not only did he regain consciousness in the ED before going to the OR, he walked out of the hospital a week later, that’s right, walked out. AMAZING! How does that even happen? That shiny room worked its ass off that day and won, we won! I can’t describe the feeling. Nothing can compare to saving a life.
In the middle of the chaos it’s hard to see the significance of the work we do. We just power through whatever the task is at hand. Lines, labs, intubation, compressions, chest tubes, splints, the list goes on and on. It isn’t until after the event that we can step back and look at what we have done. What went well, what could have gone better, and come to grips with the fact that the person we just cared for was in fact a person, not a job, not a task, but a human being. Someone with a life, and a story of their own. For me, it’s in that very moment I find strength and peace in what we do. There is always something beautiful, even in the worst of situations. The pure will to fight, to live, and to carry on, even when it hurts to breathe, is what keeps me coming back for more.
So yes, that room can be a horrific place. It can be scary and lonely, but it can also be amazing and inspirational, a place of love and triumph. Each day, each patient, brings a new chance to fight, to win, and to find beauty in unthinkable circumstances. Behind those glass doors are many hidden things. Many things that most people will never see or feel. Things that have made me laugh, made me cry, built me up, and knocked me down. Most of these things can’t be shared, and that’s ok, they don’t really need to be. If you live it you understand why, and you also understand how it’s possible, to find peace here.
Photo credit: MCR trauma room in Loveland, Colorado
149 thoughts on “Finding Peace Here”
Your story is so amazing and truthful, I can’t thank you enough for putting into words what so many of us have experienced over many years as ER nurses. As I read through your blog, the sounds and sights of so many victories and defeats of my own went crashing through my mind. Some took days to get over, some I nervously laughed about to make it “all better” after we finished our shift. There’s a frame of mind we all put ourselves into when we are experiencing the worst and best situations our career throws at us. We rely on our training and instinct to save a life, or help someone die with dignity. I too hold stories that will never be told, and it was great to hear you say “that’s ok” because after reading your story, I know there are others with feelings much like mine. Delivering a baby in an elevator and hearing the cry of a healthy baby and hearing the guttural cry of a strong firefighter losing his two year old are things no one can ever get used to. These are the things that make us who we are, in the trenches working together to do our best to keep our communities safe and comfort those we couldn’t hold on to. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to share your thoughts. You made my day, and may have let countless others know we are all here for a reason – and to keep on keeping on.
God bless you!
We all have our stories of being in the trenches. My tour of duty lasted for 18 years as a Respiratory Therspist. I have so many fond memories, both good and bad…mostly good Thank God! When I look back, and reflect on my life, I can smile. I truly believe that Laughter is the Best Medicine!
Nailed it! Thank you!
Nurses, doctors, RTs, Xray….everyone on these critical care teams are heroes, even when we don’t feel like it.
WOW……so many memories of the 24 years of working the ER came rushing back to me….including a successful resuscitation of a AAA as well! And those events best left unsaid…..the tears on the long ride home after unsuccessful resuscitation attempts for children. I ran and thrived on the adrenaline for so long….and it can take it’s toll after a while. The things people do to themselves and each other never ceases to amaze me! I have learned to live without that adrenaline rush and am nearing my 30 year anniversary of nursing. Thanks for the reminder of the good and the bad…..such is life!
I have such a deep appreciation for all the nurses that have cared for me the past 3 years. Complications left me in cardiac intensive care for about a week. I had a view from my room to view three other rooms. I’d watch 5, 6, 7 or 8 young doctors and techs and nurses crowd into a room with all their equipment. I knew the guy must be hanging on by a thread. They each did the job they were trained to do. Amazing to watch. Then, I spent 4 weeks on telelmetry floor. Out for a day and back in again. Cannot remember all the hospital stays. That joke about, be kind to your nurse, she’s the one that keeps doctors from killing you, is pretty much true. In the long, long lonely nights away from my loving wife, tethered to a bed by multiple IVs, many times my nurse would come sit on the edge of the bed with me, just to talk and keep from deep depression. I really can’t remember and there is not time to tell you all the kindnesses shown. I love my nurses.
My sister works in cardiac care. I am deeply moved by your story.May God bless each & every one of you for the hard work you do every day. I have been in hospital after hospital and I have rarely seen a bad nurse. I appreciate everything you do and my prayers are with you each & every day. God bless you abundantly.
Great story. I spent 20 years doing everything you describe here, but have never had it explained better than this. I have had people ask me “how can you keep doing that job day after day?”, you explained it so elegantly. Thank you.
That was awesome!
Reblogged this on ofamoderation.
These are excellents pieces displaying the votality within a hospital environment, the compassion that exists and caring for each and every individual. We at Heart Smart love the awareness you are spreading! If you would like to help us share the story of heart disease and heart attack which will kill more than any other disease visit our website http://www.getheartsmart.ca and help us educate and prevent this serious illness. Thank you!
Unbelievably perfect! Thanks and will share this with the ED staff at our Level 1 Trauma Center. Sometimes we feel like we can’t do this anymore,however inspirational stories like yours lifts us up and carries through – thank you!
Thank you from on ER nurse to another !!
Melina, this is a beautifully written piece and conveys so eloquently what we experience in this special arena, thank you for sharing.
Beautiful but sometimes so SAD
Even when death comes, the families can see what you do. And are amazed. And appreciate for years when they think back to those last precious days when you worked so hard for the wonderful person you did not get to meet in his prime.
Wow, just wow! This is beautiful, literally brought me to tears. I am a weekend charge nurse at our city’s level one and I love and hate my job; but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. When a trauma comes through the doors I can’t explain the calmness that comes over me. I really feel I found my true calling. Thank you for putting our feelings into words.
Mary in Fort Worth
Being a nurse for 25 yrs I have seen my shAre. Recently I have had to retire due poor health. I did transplants , heart, AAA
Trauma and all services. Reading this made me very sad because I miss this life so much. People ask me how I did what I did I tell them I did it with love and pride I am a 57 y/o male nurse that is crying as I reply to this. My God bless all those nurses that are doing this job and bless those who will do it in the future
Your passion for the job is evident in your response to Melinda’s blog. I too cried as I wrote my response thinking of the difficult cases over the years. Thank you for sharing your emotions with us, it helps to know there are others out there who feel the same way.
Take care of yourself:)
Wonderful writing! You have this RT in tears!
Been a ICU nurse for 42 years, my time is coming to retire. I don’t know if I can! Have loved my job, my nurse friends and all the happiness and sadness that went with it. Your story brought back many memories. Time sure flies. I hope that there will be a nursing job for me in heaven.
Don’t retire until you feel it is time to retire. You will know. I retired after 44 years only to go back one month later. A friend said their mother retired from nursing at age 72 and regretted it. My role is a little different now but I have definitely walked in your Critical Care shoes. Now I use my skills and knowledge and compassion as a volunteer in our community. I love it. You will still have your memories and you will be making new ones. You will still have your friends and make new ones. You will always be a nurse and you will always love it. Be proud. Retirement is not the end. It is a new challenge. But only when you know you are ready.
Great words. I can tell you are an awesome, compassionate nurse. I was reading my story in your words. 30 years in the ER and you think you have seen it all, until you haven’t. I am 60 now and I don’t think I could keep up with the physical aspect of ER anymore, but I miss it every day. I learned something new every day. My words to all ER nurses are to treat every patient as though they were YOUR loved one. Because they are ALL someone’s special person!
that one “win”……makes it all worth it
Year 40 as an RN for me, with most of those years in ER . I look at our trauma room & remember all I cared for there. The miracles, the tragedy. & pain, the sounds, a baby born precipitously, the crib deaths….beautifully written. As I approach 60 I know that this work part of my life will soon come to an end, I am getting weary of the twelves. Grace abides in those rooms….thank you for so touching a piece, bless you~
I’m not a healthcare provider, a doctor, nurse, or surgeon. I am a healthcare builder. I was the Sr. Project Manager for the general contractor that built the Medical Center of the Rockies. It took 3 1/2 years to build this facility, I spent every day of those 3 1/2 years on the project site. I cant do what you do in those OR Rooms for patients in need, however I can build the walls and the environment with the same passion, drive and care, knowing there will be many lives saved and care for by talented people like you! Love the writing, it is very personal to me. Thank you for what you do!
Wow! Melina, such a gripping article that had my interest until the end. Thanks so much for that. Brought tears to my eyes. Really touching, very real… and sounds like you have a huge heart that you take with you wherever you go.