I made a joke

The following post, submitted by Rae from I Will Not Live in Vain, and is an excerpt from her published memoir.  This is a powerful story, well worth the read, we are honored to share it with you.  It is not a happy story, though, and there are possible triggers around death.  For those who venture on, please welcome Rae to our little community and show her the support we are famous for.

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9N was hard work, but that is not why I transferred from the unit. I had started school by this time, and they would not work with me with my schedule. I knew there were several other units that would work with students, so after nine months I started looking at internal listings.

There was a job on 6C in the Childrens Hospital. 6C was also a critical care unit. It was Paediatric Cardiology. I was unsure if I could handle the emotional side of working with primarily babies that had a relatively high chance of dying. I decided to go for it, I was curious as to if I would like working with kids as it was. I would be contracted to stay a whole year before another transfer would be allowed, but as was common to say at Vandy “You can do anything for a year.” I got the job.

Unfortunately while working on this unit, I did know a handful of kids that died. Every one of these children deserves to be remembered, but I don’t have the space to add them all into my book. Most of them died at home, or in the ICU. They rarely happened actually on our floor. The whole time a worked there, I only actually saw two deaths. I’d like to tell you about one of them now.

In 2011 I went on maternity leave for four months. On my first night back, I fell right back in the groove – I felt like I had come home.

At the beginning of the night, I got report from the day shift. I was told about a patient that had been there for a while, but she was new to me. She was seventeen. She had a heart condition. She decided that she just didn’t want to take her meds anymore. She was embarrassed that she had to when her friends didn’t. Her heart stopped. CPR was performed, and she was taken to the ED. They got her heart working, but then she had a stroke. She was nearly brain dead. Her mother signed a DNR/DNI. This means we cannot intervene if she starts to die.

“God, Georgia. Thanks. Giving me a patient that is gonna die on me my first night back!” I made a joke, we laughed. I made a joke, and we laughed.

It is not unusual for hospital personnel to have a dark sense of humour. You need it sometimes just to get through a shift. If you don’t laugh you will cry.

I made a joke.

3 AM. A mother’s scream.

“Nurse! I need a nurse!”

The alarms hadn’t even started ringing yet.

I reached the door at the same time as Emily. Within seconds the alarm started ringing. Emily took the mother by the hands, looked her in the eye. “Do you know what is about to happen?” The mother nodded. “Do you want to change your mind?” The mother said “No,” tears already streaming down her face.

Suddenly the monitor went to Asystole. No heartbeat. A big white zero and a long, flat line. This girl took her last breath. No more than two minutes from the mother’s first scream, and it was over.

I made a joke.

The first thing I thought was “I can’t believe I said that to Georgia.”

Her sister arrived after hearing the news. She screamed. She screamed for forty-five minutes straight. They couldn’t get a hold of her father. It took two hours until his brother had gone to wake him up. The father thought we were all making a fuss. Of course his daughter wasn’t dead.

He came brusquely down the hall. He stood in the doorway and snapped her name. He told her to “stop playin’.” He went to her bedside and grabbed her arm to shake her. It was ice cold. I saw the realization in his eyes. He dropped to his knees with a yelp. He screamed at the top of his lungs. A few moments later he stumbled towards the hall. He stopped for a moment and turned to look at us at the nurse’s station. I will never forget the look on that man’s face.

I held it together all morning. Nope, no tears for me. Not until I was safely in my car, with my door shut. Now I was the one screaming. I was raging. I didn’t know where these feelings came from. I didn’t know her. It was best this way, why was I crying? Why did I cry over this girl, and not the other babies I had known that had passed?

After I calmed down, I was able to reflect. I realized that this was the first death I had ever actually witnessed. That is a powerful enough thing in itself, and I am a doer. We were not allowed to even try to save her. If we had tried and failed, well, alright then. But all I did was stand there and watch her die in her mother’s arms.

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12 thoughts on “I made a joke

  1. I can’t imagine being a nurse, or being any other role in the health industry. I think the stress of the power/responsibility/helplessness of each situation would explode my heart and fry my brain.
    Thank you for sharing your story here. Thank you for all you have ever done to help people. You are amazing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have read some stories where some soldiers and parents had to see the person die because they could not do anything. That feeling of helplessness and guilt can blow a person’s heart.

    The consolation in your case is that it was better for the child to die than to live and you were not related.

    Take care

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It seems to me that the mega important thing is that you were there. OK, yes, you made a joke which the universe decided to make the worst possible timing ever. But you were there with that family as they shared the news and the initial expressions of their grief. And you were 100% the professional that they needed at that time, until the time when you could let go your emotions, and for that, I applaud you heartily.

    Liked by 2 people

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