2 A.M. That's what time they got to the emergency room.
7 P.M. is what time we got them settled into the ICU.
It was one of the longest days of my entire internship, but I still remember it clear as day.
I spent my summer interning as a nursing student in the Trauma ICU. 10 weeks spent following around the nurses who literally have lives in their hands every single day. I got to see the bloody, gory, and terrifying things that you probably only think happen in movies. I spent my summer looking at the worst cuts and bruises. I learned and memorized all of the drugs that are used to make hearts beat and lungs breathe when they just can't do it on their own. I spent my summer seeing and doing things that I used to only dream of when I applied to nursing school. I felt like I did a lot, but most of the time was spent standing wide-eyed in the corner praying that someday I'll be the calm and composed nurse who knows that she's exactly where she's meant to be.
I spent my summer doing important things every single day.
But, the most important thing that I did this summer was give a patient's wife a pillow.
I knew that it was going to be a bad case when I watched my preceptor fumble with her words to explain to me just how sick this man was. I tried my best to understand but she explained, "sometimes there just isn't an explanation for why someone this young is this sick, and that's what makes our job so hard. You just have to put your "tough face" on and do what you can."
Seeing this sick man, who was so close to my grandparent's age that it honestly made my stomach twist, did make me sad. It made me wonder how I can see things like this forever, and it made me frustrated because sometimes life just isn't fair. It made me sad seeing him, but seeing his wife who was exhausted and confused and simply trying her best is what broke my heart. All I could think about was the amount of waiting rooms that she has sat in since 2 A.M. when she got here. Had she eaten at all today? When was the last time she had water? Are those the same clothes she was wearing last night? Sadly, I knew the answers to these questions, and I found myself wanting to take care of her so badly, but I knew her husband was the one that I needed to care for.
She sat and faked a smile and made small talk with me all evening. I got to hear the entire story of how she and her husband met and the highlights of their 40 years together. But, I could see in her eyes how tired she was. I could tell that she was hungry and cold and scared. I knew that she needed to take care of herself, but she wouldn't because "you don't leave someone you love, no matter how badly you need to."
So, I made it my mission to find her the comfiest chair that the ICU had to offer. I brought her a pillow and a blanket and a snack. I tried my hardest to make her comfy and as we sat together and she thanked me, we admired the rainbow that was just outside of the hospital window. I tried my best to answer all of her questions in a way she would understand, and I gave her company when the tears finally came. Our conversation eventually came to an end when she finally started to doze off, with her head on the pillow that she swore she didn't need.
I didn't save her husband that night. I watched in awe as the nurses tried, but we all knew that there wasn't anything we could do. I didn't do much at all, honestly. I knew that no amount of pillows, blankets, or comfy chairs could make up for the fact that she was about to lose her husband. I knew that nothing could prepare her or ease the pain of the living hell that she was about to endure. But, I also know that for a good thirty minutes, this woman was laughing and smiling as she was telling me stories of her husband. I knew that medicine wasn't going to save him, but I hoped that compassion would save her, even for just a little bit.
I still think about her often. I think about how it's true when they say to tell people you love them every chance you get because you just simply never know. I think about the way she thanked and hugged us, saying how much we changed her life even though we couldn't do much. I think about how I want to tell her that she changed mine, too. I think about how they always say "some patients and their families will stay with you forever" and how they would be one of mine.
That day, I was reminded that the biggest part of being a nurse can't be taught. I was reminded that compassion and empathy aren't something you learn in a classroom. I was reminded just how far holding someone's hand in silence can go, and I'll always be thankful for that. The most important thing that I did this summer was give a patient's wife a pillow.