I lay down on the couch cuddled with my toddler as she watched Paw Patrol, and I could hear my other daughters giggling loudly in the bathtub. I would need to help them wash their hair shortly, but for now I just enjoyed laying there. I pulled the comfy throw blanket up around my shoulder. We still had homeschool lessons ahead, but for now I snuggled deeper into the sofa savoring the way the cushions caressed my weary body. I was so tired! Why? I had gotten a great night’s sleep. My eyes even burned, though, as if I hadn’t slept a wink, and then it hit me why.
Yesterday I remember at one point feeling a pain in my chest. I knew what it was right away. I suffered from some pretty intense acid reflux (for which I was medicated), and the burning feeling in my lower esophagus was definitely the familiar pain of a flare up of my Gerd. I wished for Tums. Then I also realized it was likely an empty stomach causing me discomfort, with nothing on it to neutralize the stomach acid.
I had looked at my watch. Almost 2pm and no lunch yet. I could have asked for someone to relieve me, and I even knew there was a plethora of snacks in the break room at my disposal provided by our administrators. But I couldn’t make myself walk away. I was invested. I was deeply invested in the outcome of my patient, and I just didn’t feel like I could walk away until the patient was more stable.
I had looked at my watch. Seven hours. Seven hours had gone by with me on high alert, at a point of performance far beyond that of an average day. Due to the seriousness of the situation and the intensity of my critical patient, my senses had been in overdrive since I arrived. My heart beat a little faster, my brain functioned a little quicker, working to anticipate the next change. It was like being on a roller coaster. For seven hours straight. I could feel the adrenaline still pumping and I wondered briefly, “how long exactly can one go at this pace? You gotta step it down a notch, Brie. You’re gonna fizzle out.”
I took a deep breath, working to mentally and physically slow my senses that seemed more alert and expectant than usual. Then something else intense required my quick thinking and action, and I was right back at it.
It wasn’t all bad. It felt good to do good. It felt rewarding to fix things, to explain alarms to family, to answer questions and ease fears. It was wonderful to see the low blood pressure come up, to watch the high heart rate come down, and to obtain the orders I needed from the physician to make those things happen. It was an honor to be a part of life-saving healthcare, in the trenches of serious situations, catching minute changes before they became a more serious issue, but it was also immensely intense.
At some point between four and five o’clock I looked at my watch again and thought with relief, “just three more hours. I only have three more hours I still have to keep this patient alive until I pass the torch to the next shift. I can do that!”
That may sound awful to anyone who hasn’t been in that situation. It’s not meant to be. It’s just that when you’re on overdrive you can only keep going so long.
When I had gotten home, feeling tired yet satisfied, I had bragged to my husband about how cool I was. “Aren’t you proud to be married to someone who saves lives for a living? Is it hard being in love with an angel who wears scrubs?!”
He knew I was just joking. Because that’s how you had to look at it sometimes. You could either say, “oh my gosh, I’m exhausted, that was the most intense, awful day ever,” or you could say, “oh my gosh, I’m beat, but I got to be a part of something intense and amazing today.” Everyone deserved a chance to live another day, and if I had any small part in keeping things headed in that direction then it was a good day.
But as I lay on the couch this morning I realized that the intensity of the day before had caught up with me. I’ve never ran marathons, but I would imagine it’s a little bit like that. Sometimes work is like a race, and you don’t stop running until the finish line. You don’t slow down, you don’t give up, and you keep your eyes on the prize. But the next day off you’re grateful for ice water, Motrin, and rest.