My night shift started very busy. The call bells kept on buzzing. Patients kept on calling. I was assigned to hold the controlled drugs cabinet key, and I noticed that there has been lots of pain medications given to the patients in the unit. Well, that’s the reality of being on a surgical floor. Post op patients require lots of analgesia to control pain.
But what if the pain would just not let go – because the pain was not only physical – but also emotional? This is the case for most of my terminally-ill patients. I admit, the pain that comes from knowing that your time is almost over is the most difficult pain to deal with.
Early this morning, I woke up John (not his real name) so I could start giving him a wash. It was a big day for him today. He’s taking a 9-hour flight today to come back to his home country. He’s a colon cancer patient and the doctors had given up on him. He’s had quite a number of surgeries and blood transfusions, and the doctors have decided that it would be better if he comes home to his country and be with his loved ones, while he is stronger.
I did a complete overhaul on him. I changed the NGT tape. I did a quick aseptic dressing of his abdominal wound and packed it with lots of gauze to prevent it from leaking during the flight. I washed his hair, and gave his body a quick scrub. I attached two new empty drainage bags for his jejunostomy and nasogastric tubes so people wont start avoiding him in the airport when they see him with drain-filled bags. I removed the hospital gown and made him wear a long-sleeved shirt and black pants. I wanted him to look like just one of the normal passengers in the airport.
As I was doing all of these, I kept on conversing with him. He was genuinely happy when I told him that the old dressing I removed in his abdomen was quite dry. It was a good news for him because that abdominal wound kept on oozing with yellowish fluid for weeks now. “Haay thanks, Lord” was his touching reply. I knew he was still clinging to his last hope. That miracles still do come true.
I told him that I wanted to go with him so I could see my family too, that I would hide inside one of his luggages. He just laughed, and his sincere smile was enduring. I felt his happiness knowing that he’ll be with his family very soon. But I also realized that coming home this way – to see his loved ones for the last days of his life – was never a good reason to fly home. I could also feel the pain he was hiding.
Finally, I gave him enough pain medications- a shot of morphine and a fentanyl patch on the chest – to keep him comfortable during the trip. That may not be enough to relieve emotional pain, but I knew it’s going to help a lot.
He left the hospital with his wife and son, even before my shift ended at 7am. The wife texted me on their way to the airport to extend her thanks. She apologized for not being able to help me prepare her husband for the trip, but I told him it was just fine since I understood that she was also busy packing things up.
I was already having breakfast at home when I got the phone call from the wife that they have boarded the plane. She sincerely thanked me for taking care of his husband for the last weeks. She invited me to visit them in their place, when I go for vacation next time. Nurses really do get a high, when they get appreciation and acknowledgment from their patients and their families. And I am not an exception.
Today, I celebrate my first year working in this oil-rich country. One year ago on this exact day, I came here seeking for better financial opportunities. A year after, I am here reaping, not only the monetary value of my work, but moreso, the opportunity to be of help to those who really need it. Because of my work, I have a deeper appreciation of life, and that gives me all the more, the strength and wisdom to continue struggling against the sometimes harsh realities of life.
Thanks, John, for giving me a great way to cap the year.
(picture credits: procorbis.com, helpinghands-seniorservices.com, oldtibet.com)