I love my job. Not in a brown-nosing, hope my boss reads this sort of way, but in the truest sense. There are days and moments when it is rough and I get frustrated, but there are other moments that make it totally worthwhile. On the list of things I am thankful for this year, my job is definitely there. I love interacting with my patients (I had a guy this week who was in the Army stationed in the Dominican Republic when Castro tried to take over- he told me all about it), love helping them and their families understand what is going on (sometimes "Translating" doctor-speak into layman's terms), and sometimes actually walking away feeling like I saved a life. Not only that, but I feel valued by the hospital where I work.
I work with 12+ doctors, and equate dealing with them to dealing with my kids. Not any comment on their maturity- just on the fact that they all have different personalities and different preferences in their medical treatment of patients. (Just like I know which of my children won't eat mushrooms or drink milk, I know which cardiologist prefers which medication in a given situation). It takes some work to get them all figured out, but after 5 years I feel like the code has been cracked.
There are the mundane daily moments, but then there are the moments that make my job so incredibly rewarding. These are the moments when I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I had a conversation with one of our ICU nurses the other day. We were talking about patients at the end of life. In our hospital, we see a lot of elderly patients (if I don't see three people age 90 or older in a given day, it is an unusual day). Many of them live independently, and are very functional. At the same time, many have "DNR" (Do Not Resuscitate or Allow Natural Death) wishes. In light of the odds of a successful recovery after CPR at age 90+, this is pretty reasonable for most of our patients. This means that we deal with a lot of patients at end of life, many of whom have very peaceful passings. We fight as hard as we can up until the point they opt for just care, or the point where their bodies tell us it is time.
In our conversation, we talked about working with patients and their families during end of life. Sometimes they can be challenging. Then you step back and remind yourself that this is our daily experience, while this is the biggest event/crisis in this family's life at this point in time...perhaps ever. Sometimes you can help them through it with compassion, but without getting emotionally attached. Occasionally, there are those patients and families who find their way into your heart. You stop by to check on them one last time before you go home for the day, you go home thinking about them, your heart sinks when you find out they have passed away. Even though the clinical part of your brain knows that it was their time, you feel immense sadness that you couldn't do more.
I met Mr. B two years ago. Without sounding cocky, I helped as a part of our team to save his life. It was a group effort, and he was in the hospital for over a month. He could be very opinionated, but for some reason we clicked and he was always wonderful to me. He never gave me a hard time. I got to know his family very well, and came to look forward to seeing them. He was back a couple of times over the past two years, but never quite as sick or for quite as long. When I saw his daughter last week in the elevator, she told me it was time. Instead of walking to my car, where I was headed, I went to see him. He was awake, his vital signs looked decent, and his first comment was "You changed your hair since last time I saw you." (Really? He noticed that?) I was able to check in on him a couple of times a day, and he declined a bit between each visit. I went home thinking about him and his family every day. My husband was extremely supportive when I came home one day particularly down because he and his family were weighing on my mind. I was saddened to hear of his passing on Christmas Day, and even more disappointed that the stomach flu kept me from his funeral this week. If we were affected in this way by every patient, we could never do our jobs. Though if this didn't happen every once in a while, we wouldn't be good at our jobs.
So to the speechless part...I got a phone call at work on Monday from a co-worker to make sure I read Mr. B's obituary. I had been looking for it anyway to get details on his funeral arrangements. After the information about his wonderful family and the memorial service, I was floored to read this. "In lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be made in honor of Kiersten Henry's dedicated friendship and care to St. Luke's Episcopal Church" In the face of all his family had to deal with, they were thanking me for the small part I played in his care. Yes, I checked in on him and looked out for him, but his family was there day and night with him, surrounding him with love. Moments like these remind me why I love my job- because sometimes a kind word and some compassion make all the difference in the world.