I breeze into work fresh and energetic from an almost two week break from the bedside. When you walk into work, anywhere in nursing, but especially in critical care, you have absolutely no idea what you’re going to get. It’s completely the reason that I mentally and spiritually prepare myself while I stand in the shower beforehand. If ever there were an environment that could embody Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates it is indeed the intensive care unit. Sometimes you get that sweet little grandma who secretly is in no shape or form ICU criteria, but then other times you get the exact opposite.
So I find myself assuming care of a patient with as many IV drip medications infusing as I have fingers, and they also happen to have a little device called a ballon pump inserted into their body. If you’re unfamiliar with one just realize it’s basically pumping the heart for the patient. So I guess you could say it’s getting pretty serious.
I had not taken care of one of these types of patients in a hot minute (that’s southern lingo for a long time), so I had to wade into the murky water and remind myself I still knew how to swim. I had to remember to see the forest despite the trees (all those wires and IV lines), and keep in mind that in essence you just gotta look for one thing: is this normal? After fifteen years at the critical care beside you just kinda know when something isn’t right. And even if you do find yourself assuming care of that sweet little MedSurg granny, you watch her exactly the same. Cause if something ends up being “not right” then she transforms into a critical care patient. Hence you are always on guard.
As a critical care nurse sometimes you hold someone’s hand while they cry. But other times you hold a pressure bag in the air of rapidly infusing packed red blood cells hoping to obtain a blood pressure in your hemorrhagic patient.
As a critical care nurse sometimes you feed parched lips spoonful after spoonful of coveted ice. At the same time you may be titrating a handful of stout cardiac medications to keep the patient’s vital signs compatible with life.
As a critical care nurse I spoke compassionately and patiently with family, educating them on the well-being of the patient. But sometimes I breezed quickly past them to hit the Code button and start compressions.
As a critical care nurse I wiped bottoms and gave baths, upholding patient dignity in the process. Other times we barely had time for a bath with hourly vital signs, hourly intake and output, hourly blood sugars, and constant medication changes based on all of the above.
As a critical care nurse I “only” had to care for two patients. Sometimes I only could handle one, and even then I needed my fellow nurses to help me.
As a critical care nurse I enjoyed many a day laughing and joking with my patients. But other times the atmosphere required such concentration that I could hardly utter a word. In those instances I often hummed to myself to calm my frazzled nerves.
As a critical care nurse I could go all shift and never encounter a thing that even caused me to bat an eye. Or I could see something on my monitor screen that caused me to feel like I was going to loose bowel control. Just being honest.
As a critical care nurse I could fight tooth and nail, no holds barred, give em everything but the kitchen sink to keep them here on this earth. But other times we let them go, I held hands, I prayed, and I held family while they cried on my scrubs.
Some days in critical care went by slowly, and at the end it definitely felt like a 12 hour plus shift. Other days went by quickly, and by the end, as you drug yourself to your car, it felt like you had been at work a week.
But some days I got to explain to a worried family what was going on with their loved one, and I had the honor to update them on all the many interventions that had taken place to take the absolute best care of the patient. On those days I smiled with pride when they said things like “we sure are glad you’re here” or “we really do appreciate you.” Those moments were the best, and they made whatever kind of day I had gone through completely worthwhile in every way.