Thursday, January 28, 2010

At Night At St. Luke's

The other night...for a few moments...I was in my favorite place...doing one of my favorite things. Then I was abruptly woken up. I had dozed off to my happy place. It took me a few moments to figure out where I clothes were on a chair next to me, I was flat on my back with leads attached to my chest and side. The emergency room is certainly not my favorite place and being attached to a heart monitor and taking oxygen are not my favorite things.

It was late evening or early morning. The people in the next room, the backwash of a domestic violence incident which had taken place earlier in the evening, had awoken me. Across from me was someone strapped to a gurney...apparently someone on a bad trip. As for myself...I drove myself to the ER after feeling really lousy for the last few days, the deal breaker being a mind numbing headache and a nose bleed that would not stop. As it turned blood pressure was about to cause me to blow a gasket. We, my fellow patients and I, had little in common, except perhaps for a varying amounts self neglect and that surely none of us wanted to be there.

However, I did feel well enough to chat up one of the nurses who had been looking in on it turned out we have a few acquaintances in common and we talked for a while. I asked her about her job and she told me a few stories...I asked if she knew how long it took for a potato to bake at 98.6 degrees...she did....(I know well the sort of nurse of whom you could not only safely ask such a question but who would also know the answer). I also asked her what it was like to work in a place where almost all of the people with whom she dealt did not want to be.

What she told me really did not surprise me. She said that she does a lot of compartmentalization...that she does not think of us as Mrs. So and So, or Mr. Such and Such, or as Mr. Pierce for that matter. Instead she thought of us as the facial contusion and cracked ribs, the heroin overdose, and the cardiac case. To think of us as individuals, each with our own stories, would be too much and too draining. She told me that a degree of detachment was needed for her to effectively do her job...I found myself wondering if this approach spilled over to the rest of her life....

In speaking nurse....I found that while hers was a particular profession requiring particular skills....we all need to know when to be detached and when to be engaged as we all have to deal with people who are in places where they would rather not be. After all....we cannot always be in our favorite places doing our favorite things....


  1. Tom, I hope you are feeling better! Good thing you listened to your body and got yourself to a hospital. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for professional caregivers to stay strong and robust enough to do their jobs and still have the caring attitude that is so crucial. Be well ... and don't blow a gasket!

  2. Hope you're feeling better, Tom. This is so beautifully put, but one reason - as you are so very well aware - that teaching is so damn hard. It is so much easier to compartmentalize, but when you do, the humans become students and averages and abilities, and the battle is then lost.

  3. ... when it comes to teaching I agree with you completely...but as far as nursing is concerned I think a balance is needed...I write this as a consumer of medical care and as someone who knew (knows?) a nurse. With matters of life and death ever present I think a degree of detachment is needed to be a good nurse (or doctor). Besides...wouldn't rather tell a story about a potato being put in a place where a potato has no business instead someone's suffering? I know I would.

  4. I agree with you 100%. Compartmentalizing is fitting in some situations, and absolutely not in others. For those in the medical profession, I'd think it would be a must. Otherwise, how would one survive the profound losses?