“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” –Jane Goodall
I hear the 911 call go out over the police scanner. EMS is responding to the local grocery store. A customer has passed out while paying for groceries and has gashed his head open while falling and hitting the countertop. Soon EMS encodes with information about the patient they are bringing us. My heart drops. It’s my old doctor, retired for many years now. He helped raise me–kept me healthy until I was grown, married, and moved away. I’ve moved back, and now it’s my turn to care for him. He’s 85, suffering from stomach cancer, and has a heart dysrhythmia. Still the same kind, professional doc he always was. Although I believe in giving equal care to all my patients, no matter their background, today he will be getting the gold star treatment. This man has helped shape the medical community in our small town, working tirelessly to bring about the new hospital we work in, always caring about the good of the people. Always putting the needs of others ahead of himself. So my fellow nurse and I give him the best care we know how. We joke around with him as he does us to lighten the mood. He says he is in a hurry to get home. He has guests at the house, whom he was buying the groceries for when he passed out. He doesn’t want to keep them waiting. (There’s a joke in there somewhere about always waiting on a doctor, but I keep it to myself. ) His wife shows up. He assures her he’s fine. He goes on to tell us in front of her that his stomach cancer has been asymptomatic so far. We know she has early dementia and he doesn’t want to worry her, so we nod our heads and say nothing. We don’t comment on how bad his color is, or how much weight he has lost. Or the fact that he passed out today for no apparent reason. Deep down, we know he knows the truth–he’s too good of a doctor to ignore all the signs. If only there was something we could do to pay him back for all he has done for our little town over the many decades he has served here. But we have no magic pill or concoction. I know he is a praying man, so I send up a prayer that God be with him and show him favor. I bandage his head wound and attend his other needs as kindly as I can. I give him a tetanus shot and joke with him that it’s payback for all the vaccinations I got in his doctor’s office over the years. Still, he is anxious to return home to his waiting guests. Always thinking of others before himself. Finally, he gets his discharge orders and he is clearly eager to leave. We wish him well and help him to his car. Giving him discharge orders felt rather like a joke–telling a doctor of 60+years what concussion symptoms to watch for seemed silly. He smiled graciously and acknowledged my instructions, and happily went home to his guests. Meanwhile, I discussed with his grandson (also a doctor) the implications of his fall today. What the future might hold, what course of action they might take from here. That’s just it, though. That’s the kicker. None of us know what the future holds. Just because we may have done great things doesn’t mean cancer won’t kick our butts at the end of life. Or a vicious stroke maim and rob us of any quality of life, despite our best efforts at making the world a better place. Life sure isn’t fair sometimes.
As for me, this is what being a nurse is all about..to be able to give back to the community, to be a part of a never-ending cycle of care and support. The medical community is always evolving, always changing. But those who are fortunate enough to live in a small town know this; being a part of a tight-knit community that cares for its members through all stages of life is immensely gratifying. You’re not just a medical number on a chart, you’re the grandson of the hairdresser I used in highschool, you’re the son of the art teacher my kid had in 3rd grade, you’re the UPS driver’s wife, you’re the elementary school secretary that everyone knows and loves, or yes, even the retired town doctor. It’s the circle of life, when you think about it. A word of advice? Take a page out of the good ole’ doc’s book on life and treat others kindly because you never know when you’ll be the next person in need. What comes around goes around. Karma. The golden rule..”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.. Whichever version of the old adage floats your boat. It’s not only what being a good nurse is all about, but also a decent human being. Pass it on.
Nurse Ames, RN