Only when you’re a nurse.

Tonight I had these two tender moments one with each of my sons. One of my sons crawled onto my lap with an afghan in his hands to pull over us, and then he laid chest to chest and put his hands around my face. He smiled and babbled because he still doesn’t talk coherently. I’m sure he was telling me a wonderful story. We had a fire going and it was just lovely. Then later my other son came and stood next to me on the couch, and wrapped his little arm around my neck and just leaned into me to cuddle. These small moments in life are just precious and if we had not been able to conceive I would be missing out. Big time. It made me start to reflect on how we conceived.

IVF sucks. I’ve talked about it here. The egg retrieval requires sedation by an anesthesiologist. My anesthesiologist was an anxious man with broken English. He sort of flitted around me when he was starting the IV (blood spurted out on the floor while he fumbled with the tubing- luckily I’ve started probably hundreds of IVs so I just put my finger over my vein and pushed hard to stop it while he figured out the tubing) and then when I was going off to sleep he told me to count backward from 99. I was extremely nervous and not really paying attention so I started counting forward from 99, he became more agitated and said no backward and literally didn’t give me the drugs until I started counting backward.

As I was coming into consciousness afterward I saw my wife. Eventually I was mostly coherent and the nurse told me what happened when I was waking up. She told me I cried and said over and over “I lost a patient, I lost a patient.” She knew I worked on an inpatient unit and asked if perhaps we had literally just physically misplaced a patient.

I had no recollection of my hysterical emergence from anesthesia. I had indeed lost a patient that week. They died. Not at the hospital and not related to psychiatric issues, but a long time patient we all knew well, and a rather traumatic death.

I remember feeling so floored by the questions from the recovery nurse. I hadn’t thought I was affected by that loss. But apparently that was the first thing on my mind waking up.

About six years ago I was still working in the emergency department and I was there for a code. The child died. I didn’t cry. I thought there was actually something wrong with me. It was the first death I was present for that didn’t cause at least some tears. I remember worrying that I was losing my empathy and compassion. I left for a vacation the next day. We went to New York City for a few nights. I was up around 1 AM reading a book, If I Stay, I got to a scene in the hospital. I remember I started to well up in my eyes. Then I started sobbing. I thought, “Aha, here it is,”. My wife woke up and was like what the hell? I just shook my head as I sobbed trying to tell her it was okay, this was good, this meant I wasn’t a cold hearted asshole who doesn’t cry when a kid dies.

This is the shit. It still happens. Nursing is hard work. Caring and empathy and then we have to come home and care for our own kids and families. It takes so much out of me.

Many people have funny stories about coming out of anesthesia. They hit on the nurse or they think they are on vacation. It loosens our inhibitions and opens us up to emotions. For me it allowed me to be in touch with grief. We take our patient’s losses and gains home with us.

When I went into psychiatry I thought it would be less emotionally draining than the emergency department. It is but in different ways. There are funny times too. People think because I’m a nurse I’m an expert in rashes. I don’t know why. I’m not. But people lift their shirts, drop their pants, and text me pictures asking my opinion about various rashes. I generally tell them to put their clothes on and stop showing me because I treat psychiatric illness not skin.

People tell me about their mom who’s a nurse or their cousin, as if all nurses just naturally know one another. One of our neighbors when we met said, “Always good to have a nurse around”. I thought that was weird. Why? Why is it good to have me around? Just in case some one needs CPR? An emergency rash that I can’t identify? I don’t know. People just feel safer when there’s a nurse around, more secure.

I know I am privy to more information about people than they may share with non-nurses. I don’t take that for granted but it is also exhausting. I refuse to go to the grocery store. Because whenever I go someone stops me and tells me their life story. Some times I just want to run in and grab bananas and run out but inevitably I hear about some one whose spouse just died or who just called DCF on their family member. I don’t solicit these conversations at all. I make no eye contact and I generally try to look completely unapproachable. But it still happens.

What’s fascinating to me is that none of these experiences have anything to do with my sexual orientation. When people are in crisis they don’t care if I’m married to a woman or not. It doesn’t enter their mind to even wonder. I saw clients for a few years before some knew I was married to a woman. It just doesn’t come up because it’s not about me. But I also know I’ve cared for homophobic clients and families over the years. Nothing about my care taking changes when I have homophobic patients. I treat every one the same. But apparently if a homophobic patient of mine has a business they want the right to be able to refuse my own business. This makes no sense to me. It’s okay to allow me to care for you often in the most vulnerable aspects of care taking but you can’t bake me a cake?

I don’t get it. As a human being and as a nurse with a brain and a heart I would never refuse care to some one even if they are the most homophobic person on the planet. Because it just goes against my value system and my duty as a healthcare professional.

But we can’t have it both ways.

I’m not sure what the solution is. However I’m very aware there is a problem.

 

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