The end of my day was nearing and I was putting the finishing touches on my last chart. As I looked at the clock, proud of myself for actually being done before the 13 hour mark, a lady came from the private room across the hall looking distressed.
“Can I help you with something?”
She gave me that look I hate to get from a family member. You all have seen it. It is the one that sets off those intuition bells that make you instantly forget how freekin’ tired you are and that your feet are killing you.
“I need help with my husband,” she said in mid-stride back to the room.
Fortunately for me he was still breathing, had a pulse and was actually talking. He was confused as hell, but talking. I down shifted about 3 gears.
My immediate assessment was post-operative, acute delirium.
Here was a strong man in his late 70’s-early 80’s by educated guess, attempting to strip off his hospital gown because he had somewhere to be.
A second look at his wife said weariness, frustration, worry and love, all rolled into one.
While calming him down, I began asking those questions only a nurse can work into a situation. “How long have you been married?” That is my usual starting point. It inevitably brings comments that I can feed off of. I am not only able to gain very valuable information about the physical and mental state of my patient without alarming the family member, but I also gain the rapport that is so important in caring for someone.
In very few minutes I was told that he had lived a very interesting life, most of it being in the Army. He retired a lieutenant colonel and had served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. WWII was spent working under General Patton.
This insight changed my strategy completely.
I was very proud to instantly switch into being LT Emily.
“Colonel?” I said in my strong, confident Army voice.
His eyes lit up and he looked me square in the face.
“Sir, my name is LT Emily. I am in the Nurse Corps. We are gonna do everything we can to get you back on your feet in no time.”
He gave a nod and silently agreed that would be acceptable.
I went on to explain what was going on and how things were being taken care of.
During my constant reminders that pulling out the catheter would hurt like hell, and would cause him to sing soprano, I calmly explained to his wife that this should be a temporary state and that we were doing everything to keep him safe in the mean time.
It wasn’t long before the good Colonel started pulling his gown off again. When asked where he was going he said, “I have to go check on my men.”
I chuckled, grabbed his hand and told him I would take care of that for him.
I quickly asked, “Sir, do you have any other orders for me?”
“No, just make sure they are where they should be.”
“Don’t worry Colonel. You have taught me well.”
That seemed to satisfy him.
His wife made my day by simply thanking me for, “speaking his language.”
What she didn’t know is that it wasn’t all for him. That is, and always will be, my language too.
Happy 231st Birthday, US Army