Years ago, I was a young nurse, filled with the knowledge of virtually nothing. Nursing school isn’t where you learn to be a nurse. Instead, it helps you know where to look to find the answers you seek. You learn what resources are available to you. That is what nursing programs give you. A map that you follow, and then one day, little by little, you become competent and confident in your decisions.
Nursing is a science, that is true. But it is so much more. We are a mother figure that strangers grab a hold of. We wipe tears, we hold hands with a scared patient, or a family member. There are many things that are done that are driven by a soft heart, a gentle smile that says “it will be alright.” No question, this field is as much kindness, as science. It is the scope of medicine that allows, even encourages, the human element, mixed with intelligence of how the body responds to medicines, disease, and heartbreak.
Years ago, I trained under this older nurse that had little use for all the high tech machinery that we use more than our assessment skills. Another “tool” with a smart brain system that will never be able to do as much as a simple hug. When patients request that we pray with them, the technological rich settings are unable to give comfort. They have not one human element in the expensive package that will allegedly change the way we do things. I don’t buy into it all the way, and here is why.
That nurse I spoke of, had seen everything and more. She never bragged about this, she didn’t have to. She really was just that good. She was a bit salty in her personal interactions, unless she liked you. With my youthful cockiness, I had a confidence that I laid claim to but had no real right to do so. I was so naive, I didn’t know it.
The child came in with lights and sirens. He was 8. He had sandy blond hair with dark crimson knots all over his head. The active bleeding had stopped, because, except for our pushing violently on his chest, his heart had stopped some time earlier. He had been run over by the family car. They just didn’t see him. The first responders came through the door talking to nobody, to everybody the report of what had been done with no success up to that moment.
They had followed the algorithms endorsed from the American Heart Association, and the Advanced Trauma Life Support directions in the exact order. We used the correct drugs, had “O” negative blood pouring in with an infuser that forces the life-giving content into him extremely rapidly. The older nurse I was shadowing looked at me. In the most subtle way, she shook her head “no.” This child was already dead, and his body was growing comfortable with this. He was giving up. Not consciously, but in an instinctual, methodical way, it slowed. The heart rate went from the 120’s, to the 80’s, and before we looked up again, it was beating less than 10 beats per minute. The monitor above his bed pronounced that this small body was shutting down. Dying.
I was scared, and I cried, but not loudly. I had a hard time catching my breath. The room was starting to spin, slightly off kilter. I felt warmth escaping into beads of sweat that dripped from my skin. I never could have imagined how foreign and unjust this little boy looked in his last few minutes of life.
The parents were on their way. This would be an example of doing life-saving measures until the family has a chance to see them alive, to be involved in decisions that were now God’s to make. Our efforts were futile, but they would never see them.
“Anybody have any other ideas?” A common question from an ER doctor. Nurses in the ER may have an idea to try, but not on this day. He flicked off his gloves that had been submerged in the blood that was once surging through healthy veins of a little boy that had his entire life before him. The snap of the latex startled me. I tried to not let it show, but I was clearly out of my element. I was so young, in fact, that I didn’t even know what my element was.
Finally, it was just the three of us. The child, the older nurse, and myself. She took my hand and we walked to the head of the child who had just started his trip, on his way to heaven. She held my hand, and together we leaned close to his ear. “Go on home, little angel. You are free now. You are loved, and you are perfect. Heaven is the only place worthy of you. Go on now. It will be alright, I promise.”
I was crying, and was not ashamed. I looked at my mentor, perplexed. “Make this a practice. Sometimes they need permission to let go. I learned this when I was a new nurse, and I have now passed it on to you.”
With the reverence of an angel, she placed a pure white sheet over his body. We started to leave, but not before she dimmed the lights, closed the door, and crossed herself. That was the day I understood what a gift being a nurse really was. I never took it for granted again. Never.