Monday, April 23, 2012

The Saddest Thing I Ever Saw

I've been a CNA for about 5 years, and in that time I have seen some pretty interesting things. Everything on every spot on the spectrum and it has been an incredible learning experience. I think back on all the things that I have seen people go through, and all the things that I have done as a part of that. Right now I do something that most people would think would be the saddest. One of my jobs working in Labor and Delivery is to help with the demised and expired babies from our floor and sometimes from the NICU. But I can honestly say that this is one of the most rewarding parts of my job and it can sometimes be very difficult. I don't count this as the saddest though. My faith and belief in an afterlife brings me much peace and perspective that allows me to deal with this better than most. I understand and fully expect my perspective on death and childbirth to change dramatically when it comes time for me to go through these things myself.

But I think the saddest thing I ever saw happened while I was working on a Cardiac floor. We helped people prepare and recover from "small" procedures. One day this gentleman probably in his mid 50s came in to have his heart looked at, and his wife came with him. The procedure took about as long as expected, and the patient came back loopy from his procedure, and a few minutes after the patient arrived, so did the doctor. The procedure had taken such a short amount of time, because the damage to his heart was so extensive that they couldn't do anything about it in the cath lab. They would have to do the repair in a long open heart surgery that would entail at least a triple bypass. Unless he made dramatic changes in his diet and activity level and was compliant in taking his medications, even this fix wouldn't last very long. The doctor expressed his surprise at finding this much damage and explained that the symptoms that this would have caused should have brought him in for this procedure years ago. His life expectancy didn't look good, even if the heart surgery was successful, unless he made changes. Usually they schedule open heart surgeries for later in the week after one of these procedures. His was to be scheduled for that same afternoon.

Of course, his wife was in tears. Perhaps it was the medications that he had received for his procedure, but the patient seemed to take this information almost like it was old news. His children came, when they heard the news and they crowded around his bed to talk about the options and what the next few weeks would look like. Before he was moved from our unit, I went in to record some vital signs, and as I was taking his blood pressure he grabbed my wrist and looked at me and said "You look like a nice girl. Would you get me a nice big cheeseburger and a milk shake from the cafeteria. No one will run to McDonalds for me."

I was too shocked to answer. Here this man had just been told his eating and activity habits were killing him, and I was struck with the realization that food can be just as addicting as smoking or cocaine. His situation was no different from an elicit drug overdose, and he and his family were paying the price. I looked at his wife who's face looked just like the shock I felt. I'm sure I must have mumbled something about not eating before surgery before she started crying again and asking him desperately if his life was worth a cheeseburger. The most sad, selfish, and pitiful thing I ever saw was a man throwing away his good life, his wife and family, because he lacked the motivation to make healthy decisions for himself.

In Labor and Delivery I see people at their strongest. Individuals doing things they thought they could never do, their lives changing forever. I get to watch people overcome excruciating pain, both physical and emotional. People becoming parents for the 1st, 2nd or 10th time. Every day, whither there has been a vigorous gurgulling cry or a stillbirth, people leave these halls changed. Stronger. A new life ahead of them full of new challenges and experiences. I love being a part of every bit of it.

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