A nurse is a nurse is a nurse, and once you become one, you can never not be a nurse. Generally speaking, Ive considered it a rule to do my absolute best to treat my patients as if theyre members of my own family. That way, despite annoyances and inconveniences, I can chalk it up to the situation at hand and not that the patient feels like a burden to me. But I discovered I havent been treating my patients like family after all.
When I have to treat and care for a family member, I morph from a gentle and compassionate patient advocate into a Hulkified version of a medical professional with glowing green eyes, spewing orders as though my scope of practice is more of a suggestion than a rule. Because when your mother is the patient you can be anything but reasonable, at least in the beginning.
On my moms 55th birthday, we celebrated with a Chinese food lunch special and stale graham crackers at a local hospital. She was very lucky to be sitting in a telemetry unit on IV antibiotics; but she endlessly complained about getting out and going home already. Days before, she was in the ICU with a fever of 106 degrees, an extremely high blood glucose and a pneumonia that just wouldnt quit. My nurse side and my daughter side struggled to come to terms with what would save her from this event: Massive amounts of fluids and antibiotics? An insulin drip and electrolyte replacement? Or bargaining with God as I sat helplessly in the corner, because I only could suggest but not act?
As I watched my mother fight through pneumosepsis, I struggled with the idea that I could not be her nurse. My few months as an ICU nurse have taught me more than Ive learned in my entire 28 years, and though every clinical presentation I have witnessed and every skill I have learned have served as weapons in my arsenal of care, perhaps knowing too much is just as bad as knowing nothing at all.
As my preceptor taught me, a true ICU nurse never looks at her patients as stable; she assumes that at any moment, the worst case scenario can present and you need to be ready for it.
As you could imagine, my mind was racing and my patience was wearing thin. Yet, I remained calm, focused. Because my father was shaking like a leaf and my sister was still a state away, I had to hold it together. I politely explained to anyone who would listen that my mother had chronic issues that should be addressed, a medication regimen that should be honored and a pharmacist daughter, in addition to myself, who would make certain that mama bear was not to be toyed with.
To my surprise, the ICU nurses were amazing and competent and educated, in addition to being kind and compassionate and concerned. Much to my dismay, I actually found myself trusting them. Respecting them. Taking their advice. And suddenly I was able to let go to step out of the forefront and into the background. I was able to relinquish control, to stop fixating on the numbers and the tubes and the wires and be the daughter who happens to be a nurse and not the other way around.
I stopped leading with my profession, because she was changing, she was improving. It was subtle, but it was there. First her breathing steadied. Then her fever broke. Next her heart rate slowed and her blood sugars dropped and she was more like a sleepy version of her normal self. Little by little she got better.
She had been a fighter for 54 years and 361 days, and she wasnt about to stop now. Thank God that she had heavyweight nurses and nursing assistants in her corner.
Silly me. I shouldve known. When it comes to my mom, things dont always come easy.
But with a husband who loves her and a private medical team in the way of two daughters, she always pulls through. And as she sat with me for her birthday celebration in room 146-B, dozing on and off, offering me her hospital bed, so I can take a nap, I was able to rest assured that she was on the mend. And so was I.